Starting A Different Conversation For Young Dads in 2021
by Dr Carmen Lau-Clayton & Han-Son Lee
2021 has been quite the roller coaster so far for many families. As parents continue to adjust to ever-changing circumstances around their lives, their children’s schooling, friends, family, and even more, it’s important to ensure that the issues that young parents face are kept at the forefront of our minds in terms of research and policy despite the ongoing nature of the pandemic.
As a nation, we’ve seen a number of great ideas, and great policies pushed to the side or be put on pause as a great deal of our nation’s resources goes towards fighting the pandemic. That of course is necessary at this critical time of need, but we also need to ensure that where young parents are concerned that we can keep working on the vital issues that may otherwise become invisible.
In particular, by understanding the role and experiences of young fathers themselves, this can open up new possibilities and opportunities for the solutions and professional support that can help young men and their families.
New pathways for young fathers
Following our own research into young fathers last year, we discovered a range of important tensions for young fathers in the North of England:
- Active fathers: Young fathers want to be active parents across the board, and their drive to ‘be there’ and provide for their families is a significant driver in their lives. Indeed many of the young fathers we spoke saw themselves as ‘involved’ parents and this was exemplified in various ways including day-to-day child-caring responsibilities. But there are a multitude of pressures unique to this group of fathers that can leave many in vulnerable positions, which can then impact upon employment, education, and health. At the same time, the young fathers’ lack of understanding around parental rights can create further complications and tensions.
Young fathers want to be active parents across the board, and their drive to ‘be there’ and provide for their families is a significant driver in their lives
- Employment: Despite well-intentioned policies, young fathers felt that employment was important in order to provide financially and for some, was a part of their fatherhood identity. However, young fathers reported issues with wage inequality, unsympathetic attitudes by employers with regards to young men’s child-caring responsibilities, and work demands and pressures which could negatively impinge upon family life. For those who were unemployed, the ability to secure employment was significant too (be it through recruitment agencies, or by returning to education/training), but many reported difficulties here. A lack of consistent support when it came to career aspirations was highlighted as area which needed addressing in particular. Wage inequality and a lack of consistent support when it came to career aspirations were highlighted in particular as a significant risk.
- Education: Many young fathers had mixed views about the usefulness of education especially in relation to statutory schooling. Some young fathers felt that compulsory education should serve the needs of the younger generation better by equipping young people with basic life skills around parenting and budgeting for example. As many did not engage with education when younger, this led them onto alternative pathways when older in terms of employment and training. However, after becoming a parent, several young fathers wished to re-enter the education system to help improve their career prospects and earning potential.
Some young fathers felt that compulsory education should serve the needs of the younger generation better by equipping young people with basic life skills around parenting and budgeting for example
- Healthcare: Young fathers reported different experiences with professionals across a range of sectors and services when it came to their parenting journeys and education and employment pathways. Although there were examples of good practice and valuable professional support being provided by some services, unfortunately, this was not always the case. Some young fathers instead felt under-valued and ignored by service providers. A few young fathers also did not know who to reach out to for professional help and advice in times of need or even if they were eligible for professional support at all.