Blackpool Better Start, a £45 million, ten-year programme funded by the Lottery Community Fund to improve the outcomes for children aged birth to four in Blackpool, is leading the way in engagement with dads in the UK.
We know that dads are central to the emotional well-being of their children, and an affectionate, supportive dad makes a huge contribution to a child’s cognitive, language and social development. With this in mind we continue to explore innovative ways of engaging with dads across the town.
To fully understand the needs of the dads we are targeting, we work alongside them to co-produce services that support father/child relationships and support dads by increasing social connections with a view to improving mental health.
One such project is our Dads4Life group that has been set up to build relationships with dads and support them with their ambitions for the future. The group operates a portfolio of programmes, events and activities designed by dads for dads. These are open to all and aim to improve father/child relationships through involvement in shared activities.
An example of this is our early years woodwork projects that take place at the Dad’s Shed in a community garden and include activities such as making bird boxes, which are then given to local parks. There is also a range of physical activities to promote family health and well-being, and we encourage dads to spend more time outdoors through engaging in Forest School sessions.
The value of these programmes has given dads new woodworking/joinery skills as well as increased confidence in their own abilities. They also enable dads to meet other dads and develop social connections, which help with improving overall general health.
One of our dads, who is heavily involved with the Dad’s Shed, has created a range of wooden ‘light boxes’ which he is now setting up as a social enterprise due to the demand from his local community.
One of our most popular dad engagement programmes is FRED (Fathers Reading Every Day), which aims to equip dads with the skills they need to support their child’s early communication and language development. We have worked with the Fatherhood Institute to train local practitioners and members of our community as FRED facilitators, and more than 100 dads have completed the course.
The weekly programme encourages dads to read to their children every day, and they are asked to complete a logbook, detailing their reading journey.
What we often find is that dads don’t realise the importance of sharing a story with their child, and they often don’t see themselves in that role as a male caregiver.
The course is excellent at empowering dads to recognise the importance of their role in the family, which gives them the confidence to tell stories and share intimate and bonding moments with their children.
A new course will be starting this month in one of our Children’s Centres, and it is the ambition for Dads4Life that FRED will be self-sustainable in the future as more and more dads are skilled up to be course facilitators.
While the previous examples of dad engagement involved services that are open to everyone, we also offer a targeted programme called Mellow Dads. This 14-week programme is built on the concept that dads who are in the most need of support are often not ready or able to consider or implement parenting strategies due to their own challenges.
It is aimed at fathers of children who are considered to be at risk of harm, and also fathers who might display psycho-social vulnerabilities. Both father and child attend the group sessions which focus on supportive positive relationships. To date, more than 20 dads have taken part in this programme.
The Centre for Early Child Development is working alongside world-leading experts to develop new services and strategies for dad engagement. To showcase and highlight the issues fathers face, we are hosting the Talking Dads conference on 17 June in Blackpool.
The incredible line-up of speakers includes Professor Paul Ramchandani, who will explore ‘Fathers, Play and Depression’, and will look at some of the research that points to the importance of fathers early in children’s lives, in particular how dads play and interact with their young children. Paul is a LEGO professor of play in education, development and learning at Cambridge University.
We will also welcome male mental health advocate Mark Williams, who will talk about his lived experience, and Dr Anna Machin, who will look at the biological changes a man undergoes when he becomes a father and the unique role that dads play.
Dr Sharin Baldwin will also be joining us to look at ‘First-time fathers’ experiences, mental health and well-being needs during their transition to fatherhood’.
- The Talking Dads conference will be held at The Grand Hotel, Blackpool on Monday, 17 June from 9.30am-5pm and is open to anyone in the UK who works with fathers
- Tickets are available at https://talkingdads.eventbrite.co.uk