Reaching Dads through Maternity Services & Workforce Training

Colin Smy, Development Manager at Blackpool Better Start, describes the work that has been done to reach and engage fathers in Blackpool.

The challenge of reaching dads

Colin Smy

A long-standing challenge in reaching and engaging with fathers is that they are less visible to services. The pool of families participating in services and community events is quite large, but the number of dads in this pool is comparatively small. One of the solutions we have found for improving reach with dads is by having a presence in maternity units where more fathers are present.

The data shows that only 10.1% of parents present in services for year 9 were fathers. The most popular service for dads was ‘Baby Steps,’ where they made up 38.8% of participants. However, only 0.8% of participants for the infant feeding service, ‘Henry,’ were dads.

Our most successful service for reaching dads has been our Community Connector service. In year 9, the percentage of parents who were fathers has increased to 16% from 7% post-covid.

Being present in maternity wards

National statistics (ONS) show that 96% of dads are in a relationship with mum at the time of birth, and 90% are still in a relationship and present in the home at 9 months. However, the presence of dads in early years settings and home visits do not reflect these statistics. This is partly due to the availability of paternity leave. However, there is considerable evidence to suggest that dads experience marginalisation in systems which can be a barrier to their participation.

Our Community Connector service has established a weekly station in the women and children’s reception of Blackpool Teaching Hospital and are present on the maternity ward three times a week.

The reach of dads increased dramatically to 47% of all parents. We know that statistically, dads are present and active in the family during pregnancy, birth and beyond. We used this learning to adjust our strategy to focus on engaging dads earlier in the pregnancy period.

Reaching dads through professional training

In Blackpool there are 500+ members of the workforce in monthly contact with Blackpool families and therefore, potentially in contact with dads.

Since 2021/22, Blackpool Better Start has offered three workforce training courses aimed at engaging dads. These range from an introduction to dads, statistics, and myth busting, to understanding paternal mental health. It also includes an ‘Engaging Dads training project,’ co-produced and delivered with Blackpool Dads who have used Blackpool’s services. To date, there has been 252 attendances at the training sessions, with a further 120 registrations.

Reaching dads and the wider workforce early

Conversations with dads in pregnancy and hospital settings produce considerably different content to those held in the community twelve months on. Dads moving from hospital settings to service attendance is increasing month on month.

Mums are equally as happy to see dads being involved in the conversation. When dads are not present, mums will ask for advice on how to include them in a service. There’s clear advocacy within families for dads to be involved.

The training suite has had considerable attendance and impact on dads in workforces’ priorities. Whilst the first two sessions are informative, the co-produced session delivered with dads has had the most significant impact on the workforce. Discussing experiences directly with dads has created a new lens through which dads are presenting in their work. Introducing training for dad at the earliest opportunity allows professionals to think about the involvement of dads as the norm, and not as a development need.

Feedback from professionals following training:

  • “It helped me to think more about how I can approach engaging with Dads and the issues and feelings they might experience.”
  • “I will be making sure to plan my visits around father being present. Highlighting through my practice that parents/carers work as a team and all voices are to be heard.”
  • “Helped me think about system changes, helped inform a piece of co-production I’m working on as there is no dads involved.”
  • “It has encouraged me to consider the views and feeling of dads and not make presumptions.”
  • “This training was fantastic. The content certainly triggered thoughts I admittedly had not considered before in my line of work.”
  • “The guest speakers’ story will have a big influence on my practice going forward.”
  • “It makes you really think about the dad and put you into their shoes. It made you realise how many situations you’ve seen or been in and not actually realised the impacts.”
  • “I think making sure I give Dad's time. I take into consideration that they may too be struggling to and have questions and feelings.”

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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Visit the A Better Start website to find out more.