Dads talking virtually

Colin Smy, Community Engagement Officer at Blackpool Better Start, describes how Dads are supporting each other online during lockdown.

Colin Smy

The idea to create a virtual platform to support local dads came from discussions in our COVID-19 response group.

Blackpool Teaching Hospitals raised concerns about how anxiety about pregnancy and birth was impacting dads-to-be due to maternity services being heavily impacted during the crisis. The policies around visitors to the maternity ward had changed, so expectant couples were arriving at the hospital unprepared for new measures that meant dads could not leave the ward to get clothes or food.

It was agreed that new, more innovative ways of reaching dads needed to be considered. Social media’s impact during this pandemic has been unprecedented, with most people using it for news updates and local information. So we decided that supporting dads through Facebook would provide an accessible and familiar format to communicate with Blackpool dads. And with that, the Talking Dads virtual clinic was born.

Gary Cumber is a Community Connector at Blackpool Better Start, and his role incorporates engagement of local dads. During lockdown he has been making weekly calls to check on the well-being of the dads we work with, so we already had a handle on what concerns local dads have and how they needed supporting.

How we made it work

It was decided that Talking Dads would be a fortnightly Facebook live session that would last 30 minutes and would address concerns from dads and also key messages from partners. The format would include a ‘panel of experts’ that could answer questions from viewers and discuss relevant topics. The panel included Gary, myself and Mel Farnborough, a Development Support Officer at Blackpool Better Start who used to work as a Health Visitor.

Between us, the team didn’t have any experience of delivering a virtual clinic of this nature, so we linked in with similar organisations in Preston and Manchester to find out how it could be done. It was decided that the most straightforward format would be a zoom call between the three participants that would be streamed using the Facebook live function. Thankfully we had a week to test this, so by the time of our first session, we were confident in using the technology.

The next step in the process was to decide what the content would include. Gary collated all the feedback he has gathered from his weekly calls to dads, and Mel spoke to our health partners to ensure we were on point with the latest policies and messages. We spoke at length to Children’s Services and Perinatal Infant Mental Health teams to ascertain if they had spokespeople who were willing to be included in future clinic sessions.

Throughout the planning stage we were able to really solidify the aim of Talking Dads: to be visible to dads and let them know that their concerns and worries are recognised. We have found throughout the work we have done in engaging dads, that the concerns they have are often not what is expected, and support is often created around a ‘stereotypical’ idea that doesn’t fit with the reality. We were therefore keen to address areas that are important to our dads, and the feedback we received ensured that we were able to get a deeper understanding of the issues facing dads in our community.

Going Live

We know that relieving pressures on dads allows for a better home life for children through bonding and relationships. With this in mind the first session that aired on 13th May 2020, concentrated on dad’s lockdown worries; the latest guidance on hospital birth visiting for dads and the importance of looking after mental health. You can find the first session here

We have received some great feedback and press interest in this initiative, and we are now planning our second edition. We are starting to invite guest speakers to join the sessions who can add expertise to the panel and we hope that Taking Dads will gain momentum and followers as the weeks go by and we can bridge gaps with dads across the town.

Colin Smy is Community Engagement Officer at Blackpool Better Start

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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