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Dads Project finding new ways to connect

09 June 2020
During the Covid-19 health pandemic, many have been struggling with the restrictions on travelling and meeting others outside of your household.
One group of society for whom this has been particularly difficult is separated fathers.
Parenting NI's 'Dads Project' are helping fathers across the District and Northern Ireland to deal with those very problems. The project has been running for two and a half years – set up to assist dads who are separating, separated or currently involved with the courts service, to be engaged and more involved in their children's lives.
Muriel Bailey, Parenting NI's Director for Family Support Services, said the Dads Project was set up after they recognised a common trend.
"We were constantly having dads tell us that they were struggling with separation and the lack of a specific services for them.
"The National Lottery Community Fund, provided an opportunity under a specific allocation for People & Communities, and we thought, why not have dads as the community? Their needs weren't being met so we worked with existing Dads we were supporting to collate an application and we received the funding and got the Dads Project underway in January 2018.
"We've learned that men are a lot more open to receiving support than we ever imagined – maybe because they have never really had the opportunity – and now they have a service through which they can share experiences, opinions, stories, support and friendships to help one another."
Cahir Murray, Dads Project co-ordinator, said they aim to provide an emotional and social support, as well as an educational tool.
"Many men traditionally find it hard to engage, and perhaps are less experienced with kids than the mums would be.
"We have dads who were feeling socially isolated and through the project we work with them to promote engagement and access with their children. We help them through positive support, and we know that children's academic achievements, behaviour and their anxiety levels are better when both the mums and dads are involved," explained Cahir.
"We provide an emotional and a social support, and we've grown so much from our inception thanks in large part to our steering group who are made up of dads who are the service users. We place a real emphasis on being led by the dads so that they feel involved and supported.
"Our message to dads is about how they can communicate effectively so they have the right level of access to their children and they can learn more about parenting skills. Dads Project is about supporting dads in that parenting role through positive engagement."
Typically delivered through face to face workshops and groups discussions, the Project has had to adapt the way that fathers can access their much-needed and much-valued service.
"Many organisations have been challenged to adapt under the current circumstances, but that can be good as well," said Cahir. "During this pandemic the feeling of isolation that many separated dads go through has been hugely increased.
"In terms of moving forward with the Dads Project, a key aspect has been how we can offer our social support in a different way. We're launching our online Zoom services this week, and it will allow us to connect with the dads and for them to connect with one another.
"When dads go through separation, it can be very difficult. The issue of contact is one that is sometimes misinterpreted, sometimes both parents aren't singing off the same hymn sheet. If a dad has their child in their home a few days a week or fortnight, when they leave it can be difficult to cope with that loneliness and anxiety.
He continued: "The times we are in are not the norm as we know it, so dads have had to find creative ways to engage with their children, and they are doing it through the mediums of FaceTime, tablets, Whatsapp and other technology. But we also have to think about the dads out there who aren't as au fait with technology and who still have just as many rights to be able to stay in contact and have access to their children.
"We have had to change our delivery of services to meet the challenge. People like to interact, but we have to do that in a safe way. The best current platform for that is online so, for example, we will be launching our Dads Talk programme online this week, which would previously have been offered in a group social setting, where dads can join a safe space, supported by other dads in their position."
Dads Project is just one of many programmes and services offered by Parenting NI, and Muriel said the organisation are doing everything they can to make themselves accessible to parents in need.
"We have a support line which is free to call for landlines and mobiles in the North. We are getting so many calls at the minute on a variety of topics – parenting issues, contact concerns, childcare availability, managing behaviour and the issues around schools returning. We're doing everything we can to help parents manage.
"We still have a lot of programmes and we're trying to get as much as we can online, but Parenting NI takes great pride in everything we provide to parents and their families, and we don't want to be rash – we want to continue to make sure we are providing the best possible service.
"Through the Parenting NI website, our webchat, Facebook and Twitter we are keeping parents updated with a wide variety of information with things like top tips to manage stress. What we devise and share is led by what we are hearing through calls and emails, and hopefully we can continue to develop our online presence and platform to connect further with parents in the coming weeks."
For more info on the Dads Project, or if you have any parenting concerns, visit www.parentingni.org or call 0808 8010 722.