Yesterday Brigid Featherstone and I gave a presentation at the Houses of Parliament to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood, on ‘Beyond Male Role Models’, the ESRC-funded research study that we worked on with Sandy Ruxton and Mike Ward (with support from Anna Tarrant and Gareth Terry) between 2013 and 2015. The study, which was a collaboration between The Open University and Action for Children, explored the role of gender in work with vulnerable young men.
The presentation seemed to go well and prompted some interesting questions from members of the audience, who included policy-makers, practitioners and service users, as well as other researchers. We also received many requests for further information – the pile of reports that I’d brought with me certainly disappeared very quickly – and we made some great contacts in the networking session at the end of the meeting. It was also good to see friends there from Working With Men, one of our other partners in the research, including some of the workers and young service users who had featured in the film we made as part of the project (and which you can view here).
Perhaps the most challenging question came from David Lammy MP, who chairs the APPG. In our talk, we had emphasised that the young men we interviewed valued the personal qualities of support workers – including respect, care, consistency and commitment – far more than their gender identities. David wondered whether we thought that the young men who used services needed to earn respect, rather than simply expect it. I think we acquitted ourselves well in our answer, in which we argued that unless workers offered unconditional respect to young men, many of whom have been treated with a lack of respect by professionals in the past, then it would be difficult even to begin to form a productive working relationship, in which young men’s behaviour could certainly be challenged further down the line. Anyway, we were encouraged that David Lammy asked for more information about our research, and by the suggestion that it might find a place in the review that he is carrying out, at the request of the Prime Minister, into young black men in the criminal justice system.
There were two other presentations yesterday besides our own. Elina Einiö from the University of Helsinki in Finland shared the findings of her research into mortality rates among men who had been young fathers. Her large-scale population study certainly showed a connection between young fatherhood and early mortality, but it was difficult to draw conclusions about the precise causes. Was it because young fatherhood produced additional economic and emotional stresses, diverting men from investing in their own wellbeing? Did it mean that more support should be offered to young fathers, or conversely did the research demonstrate that early fatherhood should be discouraged? It was interesting to hear about Elina’s findings in the context of the conclusion, from our own study, that young fatherhood could actually have a positive impact on the lives of vulnerable young men, acting as a catalyst that helped them make the transition to a ‘safer’ and more responsible adult masculinity.
The final presentation, by Shane Ryan from Working With Men, reported on moves to establish a new Fathers’ Development Foundation. I attended the first meeting of the foundation at Kings Place, London, back in February. At the moment, the group is really a loose coalition of individuals and organisations with an interest in fatherhood matters, but the hope is that it will coalesce into a body that can have a positive influence on public policy, particularly in relation to the most marginalised and disadvantaged fathers. According to the foundation’s website, an official launch is planned for next week.