According to the research publication, titled ‘Are young fathers hard to reach’? Understanding the importance of relationship building and service sustainability’ by senior lecturer Dr Laura Davies, many of the issues around a lack of engagement actually arise from within the service design and delivery models. Dr Davies carried out the research whilst working on the ERSC funded ‘Following Young Fathers’ which was directed by Professor Bren Neale and Dr Carmon Lau-Clayton at the University of Leeds. Since joining Leeds Beckett University has had the research paper published. It is a companion piece to an earlier briefing paper, co-authored with Professor Neale.
Speaking about the overall findings from the study, Dr Davies said: “The research has shown that young fathers often don’t feel they have the same claim to service provision as young mothers, that they feel excluded and so are reluctant to come forward to take up services that are offered. They can also feel intimidated by a female dominated environment and the lack of provision outside of working hours.
“There is a clear need to involve young fathers in support services; doing so has a range of benefits both for themselves and for the well-being of their child. Young fathers often need guidance and support in order to be a positive influence in their children’s lives and this should be a central part of service development and delivery.”
Laura says that fathers are often, through no fault of their own, viewed negatively by those who could help: “Several practitioners I spoke to talked of situations where training on domestic violence was grouped with more generic training on engaging fathers. They felt that this was unhelpful, reinforced negative perceptions of men being ‘risky’ and centred the idea that men were a challenging group to work with. There is a clear need to redefine attitudes to fathers so that they are viewed more positively.”
Young fathers themselves said they didn’t know about the help available:
Jakie – “I think they should be more publicised… instead of just certain people knowing about them…there’s probably people who are in a position that we was in, with no support and don’t know of any support. And a place like a [specialist resource centre] is really good.”
Callum – “I didn’t know any support. I didn’t know owt about fathers group. I’d never heard of owt about owt like that.”
One solution to this problem is reaching out to fathers as early as possible in their parenthood journey, as Dr Davies explained: “A specialist learning mentor I spoke to as part of the research explained that it should be right from the first midwife’s appointment that a father is made to feel part of the process. Accessing young men early in order to support them making the transition to parenthood is especially important. Early help is key to tapping into young men’s redefinition of themselves as caring fathers during the early stages of their child’s life.
“However, keeping young people connected with support services is an ongoing process rather than a one-off event; provision that develops a pathway over time will create a much more welcoming space in which young fathers can access the help and support that they need to help them take care of themselves and their families. Sustained funding for services is of central importance in making this possible.”
Dr Davies is a senior lecturer in Sociology at Leeds Beckett University. She is a qualitative researcher with a background in social policy research. Her research has a particular focus on examining how policy interventions that are designed to change and/or encourage particular behaviours relate to the lived experiences of service users. Laura’s teaching is focused around inequalities, class and the welfare state.