Young dads’ groups successful in providing positive focus and support, new research shows

Having a space away from stress to learn new skills alongside support and understanding is key to the success of groups for young dads, new research from Leeds Beckett University has concluded.

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The Supporting Young Dads report, by Dr Esmée Hanna, a researcher in the Centre for Men’s Health at Leeds Beckett was launched recently at an event at the University’s city centre Rose Bowl.

Dr Hanna explained: ‘There is currently very limited research around how young men experience what we can call ‘dads groups’ or projects for young dads – those who are under 25. My research aimed to explore the ‘on the ground’ reality of young dads groups – to find out their use and value for young men, but also to explore any challenges or issues with such groups.’

The research looked at two groups in different areas of the UK: one which offered a variety of activities and events during the week for young men to attend, both with and without their children, as well as personal and tailored support for men; the second group offered a more specific course format to bring young dads together, focused around the activity of building a balance bike which young men could then give to their child/children. The two groups shared similar aims and objectives around bringing young men who were fathers together within community settings to help to improve their well-being.

Dr Hanna conducted interviews with nine young men participants – some individually and some in groups – and four project workers: two per group. To get the conversations with young dads started, Dr Hanna showed them a collection of images which she considered were potentially relevant to how the young men viewed the group they attended and they were asked to choose which they liked best and why.

She explained: ‘Across the interviews the young men often picked similar images. The men all saw an image of a father and child’s hand as representing family time and child focus and this was what the men felt the groups had at their core. Fatherhood was often central for them in their lives.’

Both projects took place in areas which could be described as deprived. The project workers interviewed were aware that the lifestyles of the young men were very influential as to whether or not they want to or are able to engage in such projects and saw that young men’s lives were sometimes ‘chaotic’ and some had  experiences of the criminal justice system. Understanding their lives was seen as important for setting up and running projects for young dads in ways that would be meaningful and sensitive to their lives. Part of this was as simple as giving support with transport, refreshments, free activities and childcare.

The young dads interviewed spoke very positively of their experiences of attending the groups in Leeds and Edinburgh. They could also see that attending the group had enabled other positive aspects in their lives to develop, including being able to give back to society. The key points that really worked for them were:

  • Activities being offered as a focus for the group
  • Space to relax away from home – often a source of stress
  • Having a space for young dads, which is so much more common for mums
  • Developing new friendships with other dads
  • The support and advice from other young men
  • Having free transport and refreshments
  • The one-to-one support from a young dads’ worker as a role model

It was also important to the young dads that those who set up the groups were dads themselves, so that they really understood what being a father entailed and therefore how to support them. One participant said of his project worker: “If it weren’t for him I don’t know where I’d be. He puts opportunities in your path to make your life better …[it’s] mind-blowing to be honest.’

The young men were keen to stress that they wanted the groups to carry on and that there were not many areas which needed improving or adapting. Some suggested broadening the range of activities to include different sports, cookery, and focusing on emotional skills around being a dad. The main emphasis was that they wanted more: longer sessions, more than one night a week, more people attending, and more time doing activities.

Those working with young dads were aware that portrayals of young fathers within society are often negative and that it can be hard to find positive role models. Being able to bring young men together positively was often felt to be an important part of the project workers’ role.

Dr Hanna commented: ‘The project workers identified some key values that the young dads gained from attending their groups. These were: creating relationships and peer support with other young dads, strengthening father and child relationships, improving young men’s well-being and confidence, and giving dads a voice’.

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