It’s widely recognised that public services do not involve, support and prepare dads as much as they could during pregnancy and the first years of a child’s life. Our influence on children’s wellbeing will always be limited if we don’t work effectively with both parents during this important time.
Midwives have often been asked to involve dads more. However there is a difference between involving men in their partner’s maternity care, and providing men with the support that they need as new fathers.
At the NSPCC, we saw the Knee High Design Challenge as an opportunity to think differently about how to help men as they become dads. We specifically wanted to find a way to improve new dads’ mental health and the quality of their relationship with their partner. These things have been shown to have an impact on how parents care for their babies.
Our initial bid to the Design Council stated that we wanted to “provide new fathers with a journey of information, advice and reassurance which helps them through the emotional transition to parenthood and supports them to improve the emotional wellbeing of their family.” We proposed that dads would be sent messages of support and guidance from late pregnancy, “with practical tips about supporting their family and improving their own emotional wellbeing.”
During the first stage of the Knee High Design Challenge we worked with men (dads, dads-to-be and dads of the future) to explore what men want to know; the tone and style of messages they are receptive to, and what they felt about different channels and formats. In summary, men want short, factual, practical and realistic advice about how to support their partner and care for their baby.
Most dads told us that the best support they received was from talking to their partner, other dads, and family members. This made us think that we shouldn’t simply provide messages of information and support to new dads, but should think about how we could prompt helpful conversations between parents and their wider family and friends.
In December we proposed that new parents should be given a handbook for dads– a sort of Haynes manual with simple facts and tips about babies – and a calendar with a week by week guide to babies’ development and suggestions for parents. The benefits of a calendar were twofold: it provided timely information relevant to parents’ current experiences, and it would be visible at home and therefore might get people talking. We suggested that both the calendar and handbook would be given to new parents by midwives, which would both lend credibility to the materials, and could demonstrate that maternity services placed some importance in dads and their role.
At this point, the Knee High team encouraged us to be more specific about what we were trying to achieve and which families we were concerned about. They also told us that we needed to think beyond simply providing products for families and consider whether we could change systems or services.
In response to the first challenge we wrote down our “theory of change”, which sets out the specific aspects of dads’ knowledge, feelings and actions that we want to change. This draws on evidence about what changes might have most impact on babies’ early development.
We’re keen for our solution to be provided to all dads so that it becomes part of mainstream care, and can start to change expectations and attitudes. However, clearly we need to make sure that it works for those families who need it most, so we’ve asked academics at Kings to review the evidence and tell us more which families’ are most at risk of poor mental health which might impact on their ability to look after their baby.
Earlier this month, with the help of Tom Tobia and his creative Makerversity space, we brought together dads and practitioners from Lambeth and Southwark for a workshop to think about how to make sure that we don’t just give dads information, but really improve their experiences. We’re now developing a set of proposals, which will both change how maternity services interact with fathers, and provide useful resources for new dads to help them through the transition to parenthood.
The next stage in our work is to firm up these ideas and test them with new fathers in Lambeth and Southwark. More on that in the next blog…