Young fathers unfairly regarded as ‘hard to reach’

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New research challenges the idea that young fathers are ‘hard to reach’ and claims the problem is that services are hard to access.

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Researchers claim that it isn't that fathers are 'hard to reach', but services are hard to access

Led by Leeds Beckett University, the research, which forms part of a wider study into fathers under the age of 25 and the availability of services to support them, identifies the barriers preventing men from taking up services.

Researchers interviewed representatives from a wide variety of organisations providing support to young fathers across the UK. The sample included health care professionals, managers and staff at a children’s centre with a nursery, and those working in local authority children’s services. Two young fathers were also interviewed for their experiences.

Responses from practitioners indicated that many of the issues with lack of engagement are due to the failure of services to put in place effective strategies that lead to young fathers taking up provision, claim the researchers. They found that this is worsened by a lack of long-term funding available for targeted projects and to advertise services.

The fathers interviewed said they were reluctant to take up services offered as they felt they didn’t have the same access to provision as young mothers, felt excluded or intimidated by a female-dominated environment. Another issue was a lack of provision outside working hours and not being aware of help available.

One father, Jakie, said, ‘I think they (services) should be more publicised, instead of just certain people knowing about them. There’s probably people who are in a position that we was (sic) in, with no support, and don’t know that there is help available.’

Senior lecturer Dr Laura Davies, who led the research, said, ‘There is a clear need to involve young fathers in support services, doing so has a range of benefits 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.

‘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.

‘One solution to this problem is reaching out to fathers as early as possible in their parenthood journey. 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.’

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