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Supporting Young Fathers Network

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'Some agencies can be overtly hostile to start with - not understanding - the ability to get inside and prove worth before the project's actually delivered something, is absolutely vital.'

Learning points:
  • It's not the interrelation of gender, ethnicity, or age that matters in setting up and delivering effective support for young fathers, rather it is the skills of a worker that are important (though of course such skills partly flow from an individual's background and experience). Practitioners require a broad range of transferable and specific skills in order to maximise potential successes. Sure Start in the West Bowling and Manningham areas of Bradford tell us that the ability of a practitioner to network and be able to explain the benefits of the work clearly to other professionals, are essential skills in young fathers work.
  • Workers do not necessarily need to be 'experts' in terms of their knowledge of parenting and other issues. Instead, it is important for workers to be realistic about their own boundaries and limitations, and be able to refer to appropriate 'others' as and when necessary.
  • A clear message from the literature (e.g. Quinton et al., 2002) is that many health professionals know little about young fathers, do not see them as central to their tasks, and feel that they lack the confidence and necessary skills to engage with young men. Because of the predominance of women in support services, it is likely that a number of these professionals will be women. However, it essential that in acknowledging the role and interplay of gender in delivering support for young fathers, this does not equate to a culture of blaming female workers. Instead, it is important to recognise that the prior professional experiences that many women have had often do not provide them with the relevant opportunities to work with young men. Consequently, there is a need to support female workers so they too are able to challenge negative beliefs about young fathers. Moreover, anti-discriminatory training that helps develop whole-team approaches which recognise young fathers as legitimate specialist and mainstream service users is also valuable.
  • The specific influences gender and ethnicity may have in terms of engaging and delivering support for young fathers, are likely to be complex. In some cases, it may be helpful to strategically recruit staff in order to take such factors into account. For example, projects and services in Lewisham and Bradford have both emphasised strongly the positive impacts worker gender and ethnicity can have on the success of engaging with young fathers and young men.
  • The implicit assumption that practitioners working with young fathers should be male (including dedicated fathers workers), needs to be challenged. Although having a male presence can be very beneficial, and in some cases desirable (e.g. help to keep a focus on key issues for young fathers), this does not mean that women cannot, and do not work successfully with young men on fathering issues. Indeed, some of the most successful work with young fathers has been undertaken by women, and it is important to appreciate that female staff do not need to 'wait for a man' before engaging with fathers (Burgess, 2006b).
  • Ethnicity appears to be significant when it comes to reaching young men from BME groups. Skilled workers from similar ethnic backgrounds may appear to be more approachable in the first instance to the young men. The worker's cultural knowledge and understanding may also enable him or her to 'connect' more easily with young people from minority ethnic groups.

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