What’s it like to work on the Dad Matters Project?

We talk to Matt, our Manchester Coordinator, about his first  year at Home-Start Manchester working on the Dad Matters Project.

“As I write this, I have been working for Dad Matters for 11 months, and already, I cannot imagine ever wanting to do anything else. My background wasn’t in mental health; I spent 15 years in retail management and as a pharmacy dispenser before taking time off to be a stay-at-home dad.

During that time, I quickly realized that support specifically aimed at dads was almost non-existent. I recall taking my daughter to a baby rhyme and sing group and being the only dad there. I constantly questioned whether I should attend or if it wasn’t a place for me. However, the mums were very welcoming, and I like to think I brought a unique perspective to the group. Eventually, I found a dads group called Just4dads in South Manchester, which held weekend and weekday activities. For the first time, I felt welcomed and part of a group where I belonged. This experience made me reflect on my own journey through the pregnancies and births of my three children. It became clear to me that the entire process of parenthood, from initial midwife appointments to the structure of paternity leave, often positions dads as secondary parents.

When my partner became unwell and had to stop working, I needed to find a job after being out of the workforce for two years. I felt like I had lost part of my identity as a stay-at-home parent. Then I saw a job advert for a Dad Matters Coordinator in Manchester. I knew immediately that my life experiences would help me succeed in this role.

What unites the eleven coordinators in Manchester is that we are all fathers. This peer-to-peer support fosters conversations and relationships with fathers based on shared experiences. Understanding the challenges parents face, having faced them ourselves, allows us to offer genuine empathy. Men often find it difficult to discuss their mental health, but talking to another man with similar life experiences helps break down barriers. I remember driving to my first support session with a dad referred to me, wondering how I would get him to open up about his experience. I needn’t have worried; we quickly found common ground, and over the course of a few weeks, I got to know him well enough to discuss difficult subjects and eventually support him in getting more structured mental health help. We support fathers flexibly for a period of time that suits them whether this is over the phone, at their home or even out in the community.

In addition to working with a caseload of fifteen dads on a weekly basis, I complete outreach in the community. Whether talking to dads at birth registration or in the hospital, I start by asking how they are. It’s surprising how many dads tell me I’m the first person to ask them that. This immediately reminds me of the feeling of being a secondary parent while raising my three daughters. With the relevant training, I now inform dads how they can positively impact their child’s first 1001 days, which has lifelong benefits. I talk to expectant dads about how babies can differentiate between mum and dad’s voices after 24 weeks and share my own parenting experiences. Many fathers don’t realize the massive impact they can have, and it’s amazing to check in with them at different points on their parenthood journey.

Another opportunity to inspire and build confidence in parents is through bump-to-baby classes in the community. As a guest speaker, I take fathers into smaller groups, where it’s incredible to see conversations flow as soon as they’re in a room with an experienced parent. The questions are varied, but a common theme is that dads want to be involved and be equal parents. Dad Matters offers its own antenatal education, building on courses provided by family hubs or midwives. These online sessions, held in the evenings or on weekends, are a fantastic opportunity to bring dads together, helping them bond with their baby in waiting and providing a supportive forum for parents to ask questions and share experiences.

As a father of three, working from home and planning my own schedule is a massive incentive. Home-Start, as the charity delivering the Dad Matters project, is very family-focused, allowing me to maintain a work-life balance that lets me spend quality time with my family while genuinely making a difference with the families I work with. Although I don’t work directly with the eleven other coordinators in Manchester all the time, I know I can always reach out to them for support, guidance, and advice. The social aspect of working for Dad Matters means that even though the role can be challenging, there’s always a team of people ready to help.

Funding for another Dad Matters Coordinator in Manchester has just been approved, and it would be fantastic to help scaffold this new person into the role. I don’t have a background in mental health, and most of the Dad Matters coordinators come from diverse roles. It’s our shared passion for highlighting the positive role a father can play that brings us all together. Sometimes it is hard to know whether the work that you are doing really has an impact with families and I would like to finish with an experience I had less than a week ago. I was in St Mary’s hospital in Manchester on the post-natal ward speaking to fathers whose partner had just given birth. One dad immediately recognised me from when I came to speak at the bump to baby classes and he was so happy to see me again to introduce me to his new baby. It was a lovely reminder that even though I had spent 20 minutes with this dad talking about his impact as a parent, he had remembered this and was excited to put this into practice.”

Dad Matters has a number of positions being recruited to, including alongside Matt in Manchester – see the links below for more info

St. Helen’s – www.homestartsthelens.org.uk – closing 27th June

Halton – www.homestartwarringtonandcheshire.org.uk – closing 30th June

Manchester – www.homestartmanchester.com – closing 10th July

Barnet – www.homestartbarent.org – closing 14th July

 

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