Ahead of fathers day this Sunday, 4in10's Research and Learning Officer, Sian Elliott, asks do young dads in London feel policy makers and service providers consider them as important as young mums?

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Young Dads: Just As Important

Date Posted: 15 June 2018

"I think dads just have to find their own way to be honest."

A young dad speaking to in 4in10

In Spring 2018, as part of a joint project with Partnership for Young London, 4in10 conducted research with young parents living in London about the issues they faced in relation to employment in the capital. We spoke to young fathers who were experiencing multiple challenges such as material deprivation, homelessness and insecure employment – all of which were in some way affecting their ability to parent and familial relationships.

Becoming a young father is an important time in the lives of young men – a period of opportunity but also risk. They may face a number of challenges in ‘being there’ for their child and the family, and they both need and value professional support.

This is particularly so for young fathers living with material deprivation or those for whom entry into parenthood is unplanned, parental relationships are difficult or contact with the child is tenuous. The failure of services to engage with and design for young men at the early stages of pregnancy and parenthood could lead them to disengage from professional services, with consequences for both them and their families.

Three strong elements emerged from our conversations with young fathers that we believe need to considered by policy makers and service providers alike.

Fathers as providers

“I think mainly society and the way the government has been set up from years and years back, the masculinity sort of aspect and the ideology of men being the breadwinner, the grafter, the person that comes home with the money has always been circulating through society, and it continues to now.”

The young fathers we spoke to clearly valued their children and fatherhood. Fatherhood appeared to have given them a new sense of purpose and direction. This sense of purpose appears to stem from internalised beliefs that that the parental father figure should act as provider and role model. Such beliefs appeared be formed in response to external expectations and representations of fatherhood.

This narrative is damaging to fathers, their children and the co-parent – it presents fathers as having no positive contribution to make to their wellbeing other than contributing financially. This is clearly wrong but has a tangible effect on the young men we spoke to. They expressed an underlying fear that if were unable to provide financially for their child, either currently or in the future, it could affect their relationship and contact with their child. 

“If it went to court, what would they say? I’ve got no home and can’t get work. They wouldn’t let me see my son anyway.”

Employment and relationships

“I work really long shifts. I have to. At my last job I was working from 12 to 10pm Monday to Sunday.  Seeing my son was really hard.”

Young fathers are often forging their careers at the same time as entering parenthood and many were in insecure employment or working in low paid, low skilled jobs with shift patterns that had a significant impact on their time with their child and the family.

Some of the young fathers that were not living with their child experienced difficulties establishing regular contact with their child if they are out of work, in insecure employment and/or homeless. Changing shift patterns meant they could not established regular contact routines and they may be forced to choose between turning down work or letting their child down.

"If I got a job, it wouldn’t be on my terms it would be during the times when I see my children. So then when can I actually tell them [family court] the days I can regularly see my children because it would always change."

Accessing help

“When we had our daughter, the midwife came and saw me but no one was asking him [the dad] his feelings. Or how he feels about a new baby. They cared about me but at the same time, you can actually see why men sometimes take their anger out on the woman to a certain extent because he has no one to talk to. There’s no one.”

The support young fathers receive in the early stages of pregnancy and parenthood, and the interactions they have with public services all have the potential to shape their emerging sense of self and their attitudes towards parenting and family life.  There was a sense amongst both young fathers and young mothers that we spoke to that young parents are not offered the same level of support in professional settings. The lack of parity in support can undermine the father’s role in the family unit, reinforcing the sense that fathers should be self-reliant and act as the provider.

If young fathers’ emotional and practical needs go unseen by support services, young men may feel sidelined and marginalised as parents. This can foster a sense of distrust and disengagement from professional services, putting young fathers at high risk of isolation. As alluded to in above the participant quote, such action could risk the health and wellbeing of the family if young fathers have difficulty accessing help when they need it and this was something young fathers expressed difficulty in doing.   

Sometimes you do need support because you can't always do it by yourself but it makes me feel kind of low because I don't really like asking people for things.”

Fathers Are Just As Important

If we want young families to succeed we need to make young fathers feel they are a vital part of the family unit, whether they live with their children or not. We need to see and hear young dads, and design policies and services that make them feel included and supported with a range of joined-up practical and emotional support from the early stages of pregnancy and beyond. 

The quotes in this article are taken from our recent Young Parents in London: Living With Precariousness report. For more information on this, and our calls to action for employers, government and councils take a look at the full report Young Parents in London: Living with Precariousness.