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Christchurch Teen Dads Programme

The teen dads programme in Christchurch started in May 2011, in close collaboration with Waipuna Youth & Community Trust. This is the service description as proposed to the funder (excerpt from the entire proposal):

Aim

A small amount of funding is available through the Ministry of Social Development to provide a service specifically for teenage fathers on an ongoing basis. The Ministry has, in consultation with service providers, developed a resource for service delivery to teen fathers, emphasising an approach that is ‘appropriate to their culture and their age’, acknowledges ‘that, despite obstacles, most teen fathers want to be involved with, and do their best for, their children’ and has a ‘male-focused approach’.

Waipuna and Father & Child also acknowledge that involvement of fathers is a very important part of a child’s development. To get optimal benefits for a child, mothers and fathers need to work together, and the two Trusts believe that this parental cooperation should be encouraged, expected, nurtured and role-modelled by those working with families.

Alignment with Ministry of Social Development guidelines

MSD has published the results of its own consultations with service providers and teenage fathers in the resource ‘Supporting Teen Fathers’, which is the result of a process intended to guide the subsequent funding process.

The two key areas of service delivery described in the resource are ‘providing parenting support to teen fathers’ and ‘supporting teen fathers with other areas of their lives’. Our vision for an ongoing service addresses both these areas.

For parenting support the resource emphasises ‘to address barriers’ by ‘working with fathers and mothers before the birth to address obstacles that hinders fathers’ involvement’, ‘facilitating communication and co-operation between the teen father and the mother of his child’ and ‘providing services on an ongoing basis so they can effectively respond to difficult family situations as they arise rather than being simple one-off inrterventions’ (page 16). It is exactly this kind of co-operative support which is at the heart of our collaboration.

For support in ‘other areas of life’, the resource particularly mentions mentoring, or mentoring principles incorporated within service provision. ‘Supportive mentoring relationships involve developing lasting and supportive bonds with young people’ (page 17). For an ongoing service we envisage such individual mentoring support for a limited number of young men through a Father & Child Trust support/youth worker (see below).

Our proposal also applies the ‘mixed approach’ to service delivery advocated in the resource (page 18) and incorporates one-on-one work, group work and peer support.

What an ongoing service would look like

Enrolment of young parents

Waipuna hosts antenatal classes for young parents, run by the Canterbury District Health Board. Attendance of young fathers in these classes is usually high. This would provide an opportunity to enrol parents in the proposed service very early, and maximise the benefit of the service.

At present, Waipuna enrols young mothers in their services. It is envisaged to add an option which would allow two young parents to enrol jointly. Enrolment in (and provision of) the service will be independent from the relationship status of the two parents, which is likely to change over a period of time.

We would also specifically target the younger parents (i.e. under 20) amongst any suitable candidates, as they are potentially the most vulnerable. They are also often the most open to mentoring – a window of opportunity that tends to close with young males as they approach their 20s.

Working with young parents individually

The majority of the contract amount available ($20,000 p.a.) would go towards the salary of a support or youth worker with Father & Child Trust, who would provide mentoring, support and advocacy for five young men as an ‘active’ caseload, as well as being involved in joint groups as below. Over time, a ‘secondary’ case load will accumulate of young men who have been actively supported initially, where contact is maintained regularly, and who will need intensive case work at times as events develop in their lives (at which stage they will be ‘active’ again).

Waipuna Trust will provide mentoring, support and advocacy for the mothers of the children of the young men as part of their funded services. The youth workers working with the young mothers and fathers will also build a relationship with the respective other parent to foster an environment of trust and cooperation amongst everyone involved. This should also provide a good role model for young parents, as they experience women and men working together for the welfare of families. Whanau or wider family will be involved depending on the individual circumstances of the young parents.

For both, mothers and fathers it is important that they are connected to peers (i.e. other young mothers and fathers) and mentors (older women and men) of their own sex. Individual troubleshooting is often required for situations that impact on the child, but are rooted elsewhere; for example difficulties in the wider family, disconnectedness from education or work, low-level delinquency and other issues. However, a key goal for the parents we work with in this project is to avoid the antagonism that often develops between a young mother and her family and supporters on the one hand, and the young father on the other, by providing accessible communication channels at all times and setting them on the path to work as a team throughout the child’s life.

Working with young parents together

If young women and men are to work together as parents, they must both be given the tools for parenting and also to maintain a cooperative relationship with each other. Therefore all information, education and support related to parenting and relationship issues will be delivered to both parents together.

The remainder of the contract amount not required for teen dads mentoring (and administrative and management support) will go towards running youth-friendly parenting and relationship education, where attendance by both parents is encouraged and, in fact, expected. This may start as an extension from the already mentioned ante-natal classes and, over time, may take the form of more informal ‘informative’ get-togethers over food rather than structured classes. The goal is to help both parents become skilled in parenting so that they can trust and rely on each other when it comes to caring for their child.

Young relationships almost inevitably fall apart, although sometimes this is only temporary. It is during those times where the youth/support workers will help the parents to still try to work together and find arrangements for the child that suits the situation. If we have done a good job in role-modelling and encouraging cooperation and joint responsibilities so far, this should not be as hard as it often is at the moment.

We sincerely hope that this new way of providing services to teen parents will, in the long run, become a model for most publicly funded teen parents services, rather than a specialised service in an otherwise very mother-centred environment. In future, ringfencing funding for teen dads may no longer be necessary as teen ‘parent’ services have become inclusive.

Sharing the experience

There is a need sector-wide for more information about the needs and experiences of teen dads, and their inclusion into the service system. Some work has been done in this area in New Zealand, but this project offers an excellent opportunity to make information about working with teen dads and joint service provision available to a wider audience. Many agencies are thinking about changing practice towards a more inclusive model, but information on how to do so is not readily available. As this service develops and comes of age, our practice, knowledge and experience will improve.

With this in mind, we recommend to provide a small amount of additional funding alongside this service that would allow us to run seminars, talks and workshops for others working in this area.

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