Brook Young Fathers Cornwall
Practical parenting skills for young fathers in Cornwall
The Brook Young Fathers group supports young dads in Cornwall to develop their parenting skills, including learning about how to keep babies and young children safe around the home.
Fathers play an important role in parenting and care from the first days of a child’s life. So the earlier they are involved and supported to gain skills and confidence, the more likely they will be to have a positive influence on a child’s health, safety and wellbeing as they grow and develop.
In 2009, research conducted in the St Blazey area of Cornwall showed that young fathers rarely make use of family services. The report concluded that there was a real need for a local support service that was specifically for them and this was the starting point for the Brook Young Fathers group. There’s no fixed length of time for being involved in the programme - young fathers can stay in the group for as long as they like, up until the age of 25.
The Brook Young Fathers group meets up every Tuesday evening. Many members of the group are at work or college during the day, so evening meetings make it easier for people to come along. “When you’re offering a service for a group such as young fathers, you really need to think about making access as straightforward as possible,” explains Ed Hart, Boys’ and Young Men’s Worker at Brook Cornwall.
“Children’s centres tend to offer most of their services from 9am-5pm Monday to Friday, which isn’t really suitable for a lot of fathers. Many centres have a dads’ group on a Saturday, but perhaps only once a month. Midwife and health visitor appointments can also be difficult for dads to attend – and it gets even harder if the parents aren’t together. I’ve talked to a lot of dads who are separated from their child’s mum and don’t even realise they have a right to talk to health visitors and other professionals without going through their former partner.”
Breaking down barriers
Ed says that there’s a common perception that young men aren’t willing to get involved in groups. “It’s true that many young men are very reluctant to join in with group activities, but in my experience this initial reluctance can be overcome through personal, one-to-one support and encouragement. Our solution has been to recruit a young fathers’ worker to work with people on an individual basis – she meets up with new members before they join the group and supports them throughout their involvement.”
Practical parenting skills
The group sessions focus on practical parenting skills, looking at everything from household budgeting to the importance of play. They also cover the subject of safety in the home. “For our safety activity we arrange a room with lots of different risks in it and then we talk about each of them,” says Ed. “Everyone gets really into it – young fathers often have a strong protective instinct and see safety as one of their roles. The young dads spot most of the hazards very quickly but there’s usually a few things that they haven’t thought about before, such as window blind cords.”
One of the first things that the group did was make a half-hour film about what it's like to be a young dad, exploring topics such as finance, social life, education, employment and coping with a newborn. The film set out to challenge negative perceptions and will be made available to schools and young mums’ groups as an education tool and to maternity services as a training resource.
In spring 2012 Brook Young Fathers received funding from Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Primary Care Trust (PCT) to develop a six session educational resource for people working with young fathers. “We teamed up with Rob Beale of Cornwall Council and Inspire Cornwall community interest company, who also work with dads in Cornwall, to develop the resource. It’s designed to be used throughout Cornwall, but the content is relevant to people working with young fathers anywhere in the country,” comments Ed. “The ‘Looking after your baby’ session focuses on preventing accidents and harm, and covers topics such as how to support a baby’s head and using safety equipment around the home.”
Ed says that the team has developed strong links with Cornwall and Isles of Scilly PCT’s accident prevention co-ordinator, who helps them to plan sessions on home safety and shares useful resources developed by the PCT, such as its nappy sack safety toolkit.
Brook Young Fathers also collaborates with other local organisations that work with young people or want to engage with young fathers. “We aim to cover a very wide range of topics in our meetings and know that we can’t be experts in everything! It makes sense to have other people come in to talk about their areas of expertise. Some of the things we’ve had people come in to speak about include housing benefits, energy efficiency and domestic violence. We also enjoy very strong links with local further and adult education providers and signpost many members into further education and training.”
What we can learn
- Having regular weekly meetings and building in social activities makes it easier for young fathers to form friendships and develop trust within a support group.
- Fathers often find it difficult to access daytime services available in children’s centres and to have contact with midwives and health visitors. Where parents are separated, fathers sometimes assume that these kinds of support are only available to the child’s mother, or have to be accessed through the mother.
- Young fathers often have a good level of awareness of safety issues, but may not know about less obvious dangers like blind cords or nappy sacks.
- Making links with local organisations is an effective way to draw on outside expertise and make use of resources that others have created.
- The Healthy Child programme: Pregnancy and the first years of life also provides information on the involvement of fathers and their contribution to their children’s development, health and wellbeing.