New Dads Project to help support fathers is launched in Derry

The Mayor, Councilllor John Boyle pictured at the launch of the Dads Project at People Plus NI in the City Factory building. Included are Muriel Bailey, seated, Director of Northern Ireland Family Services, and from left, Maria Herron, Families Together, Cahir Murray, Dads Project co-ordinator, Hayley Devine, key worker, Dads Project, and Nigel McCafferty, speaker. DER2418-115KM
The Mayor, Councilllor John Boyle pictured at the launch of the Dads Project at People Plus NI in the City Factory building. Included are Muriel Bailey, seated, Director of Northern Ireland Family Services, and from left, Maria Herron, Families Together, Cahir Murray, Dads Project co-ordinator, Hayley Devine, key worker, Dads Project, and Nigel McCafferty, speaker. DER2418-115KM

A new project aimed at supporting fathers who have experienced or are going through a separation, has been launched in Derry.

Mayor John Boyle joined those at the helm of the new Dads’ Project during the official launch at its People Plus base on Queen Street recently.

The project has been launched by Parenting NI following the awarding of funding from the Big Lottery.

Project co-ordinator, Cahir Murray, said the need for a tailored service for fathers had been recognised through Parenting NI’s contact with parents.

“The Dads’ Project is about the provision of services for dads, but it is also about looking at children; looking at the impact of separation on kids and working with fathers and dads to soften that,” Cahir said.

It was often the case, he added, that fathers going through separation, or who have been through it, are less likely to be able to readily access support than mothers.

“Fathers, when that happens to them, don’t know where to go, because the resources, the connections out in the community, the supports are actually lacking, so what we are doing is trying to connect fathers with the support services that are available, trying to engage with the dads to try to get them to parent more effectively with their children now that they are living apart, and looking at the co-parenting role with mum and dad,” Cahir said.

Cahir said that over the years, as society has changed, the roles between mums and dads were more shared now than would have traditionally been the case.

“If separation occurs, what seems to happen is that the dad who has grown up with the child as a baby, an infant, a pre-schooler, and then all of a sudden has to move out of home, feels that he is no longer involved in that parental responsibility that he had. That can be very difficult and then what that can lead to can be the whole inability to cope with the changes that are going on, which can then lead to very poor emotional and physical health and well being. For dads whenever you leave a relationship, it’s not prepared; it is not something you think is going to happen when you are in a relationship.”

Cahir said that this can be compounded if parental conflict arises. “If there is acrimony there, that can make it very difficult,” he said. “This is where the project can work with dads, on how they can engage positively with their ex-partners and how they also reassure their children that what happened wasn’t their fault and that they still love their children. The project will be promoting a father’s engagement after separation. We will also be helping those dads deal with their confidence and self-esteem as fathers.”

A Parenting Apart programme is already getting under way in Belfast, while in Derry taster programmes in two different communities are being introduced.

“We have developed what we call a ‘Dads’ Talk’ drop-in facility, where dads can drop in unannounced, informally, and if they need to speak to the likes of myself they have that opportunity. We’re in discussions with the Dunluce Family Centre in Ballymagroarty, and the Ballymagroarty Hazelbank Community Partnership and that is where we are looking at Dads’ Talk to begin soon.”

‘Fathers and Families’ meanwhile, looks at the father and the relationship with the child and parenting. “We are going to holding one of the first Fathers and Families taster sessions down at the Ethos Project at Northside in Shantallow,” Cahir confirmed.

The plan is to roll out more projects and Cahir encouraged those who are co-parenting, in a step-parenting relationship and grandparents, older brothers, uncles who are taking on the role model role to get in touch.

The Dads’ Project is also appealing for those who can act as positive role models to become ‘local champions’ and get involved with the charity.

Eventually, the dads involved in the project will become part of a Steering Group which will decide where the project will be taken into the future. In terms of legacy, Cahir said the aim was also to upskill some of the dads involved to become trainers with groups of dads going through similar situations to what they themselves have experienced.

“We will offer dads the opportunity to tie in with Parenting NI as well and make use of the services they have. There is package of support we can put in place,” Cahir added.

Father relationship ‘so important’

The new Dads’ Project will be partly based in Derry and will support fathers from here and also throughout Northern Ireland who have gone through or are experiencing separation.

As well as providing support service for fathers, including those involved with the court service, the project will aim to promote children’s rights to have access to both parents.

Commenting on the new project, Charlene Brooks, Chief Executive of parenting NI said: “The relationship between children and their fathers is so important. While there are some occasions where contact is not possible, in general the research is clear. Children do better if they have contact with their father.

“Having a father who is active and engaged in his children’s life is hugely important for positive outcomes.”

Parenting NI research has shown that over 80 per cent of parents dealing with long-running conflict separations are worried, stressed and anxious. Similarly, negative impacts have been found with children including behaviour and physical issues.

Cahir said the Dads’ Project is taking referalls at the moment from statuory and community organisations.

“Dads can also pick up the phone and ring in themselves, self-refer. Or they can walk in off the street,” Cahir said.

Anyone wishing to get involved in or contact the Dads’ Project can e-mail: dadsproject@parentingni.org or contact the freephone helpline number 08088010722.