Communicating with young fathers requires fatherhood programs to use different outreach methods and provide other program offerings than those for older fathers. The first step is to understand young fathers, the issues they’re facing, and how they see the world.
The initial reaction of young men, particularly teenagers, when they first learn that they are to become a father is often shock and confusion. They may be depressed and have anxiety around their relationship with the mother, the health of the mother and child, the impact on their personal freedom and time, and being able to finish school or find a job.
Although they could benefit from participation in a fatherhood program or other family support services, young fathers are unlikely to actively look for help unless it is highly visible or they have heard about it from friends. Sometimes they may be uncertain or suspicious of the program, particularly if they have heard other young fathers talk about child support responsibilities.
Because young adults use social media at very high rates, this a key part of fatherhood programs’ communication strategies. Creating program apps, social networking tools, or text messages to participants can spread the word about upcoming events and keep participants engaged.
Adolescent fathers need special support and practitioners should expect gradual progress. Programs should help young fathers understand their strengths, encourage involvement with their children, and provide support as they figure out their next steps.
Tips & Best Practices
- Work with your staff to identify stereotypes and misconceptions about young fathers and provide information on addressing these assumptions. Young fathers are often portrayed as unconcerned, unfriendly, sexually aggressive, or eager to avoid responsibility during and after the pregnancy. Based on research and input from practitioners working with young fathers there is no evidence of this. Instead, practice active community outreach. Work with young fathers by first understanding if and how they want to be involved in their child’s life and provide them with information on their rights and responsibilities, such as helping them establish paternity.
- Tailor services that specifically help young fathers overcome challenges. Research indicates that young fathers face multiple risk factors, including low academic performance and/or dropout, financial insecurity, high arrest rates, and antisocial behavior. Additionally, young fathers are likely to live in poor areas. Addressing these challenges and needs can encourage young fathers to participate. Interestingly, while fatherhood can create challenges for young fathers, becoming a father can also motivate them to avoid risky behaviors in the future.
- Ask how they want to hear from you and update your program website and social media accounts to better connect with fathers. Do this by learning how your participants get news and messages and ask them about how they want to hear from you. Web sites, social media, and even other methods such as emails, blogs, or even certain print communications will best reach participants. electronic newsletters or blogs, and use social media accounts including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to spread the word about program activities and achievements.
- Encourage staff to be strong role models or mentors. Young fathers often get “hooked” on support programs because a certain staff member provides support and encouragement.
- Connect with young fathers as early as possible, preferably before the child’s birth. Prenatal education classes with the mother or classes with other expectant fathers can provide information and skills to prepare young dads to support the mother and child. Encourage young fathers to be present and actively support the mother during birth.
Fathers and Families Center in Indianapolis was founded in 1993 as the Father Resource Program of Wishard Health Services. Under the leadership of Wallace McLaughlin since its inception, the center was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) agency in 1999 and has provided self-sufficiency and job readiness training, job placement, GED preparation, other educational support, and parenting education to thousands of young parents. As an Office of Family Assistance Healthy Marriage grantee since 2005, the organization has added services to assist couples build healthy relationship skills.
Should a program work with young fathers separately from older fathers, or include them into mixed-age groups?
Some practitioners believe that dads aged 20–25 can benefit from the experience of older fathers; others believe younger fathers, particularly those under the age of 20, benefit from programs or activities designed specifically for their developmental needs. Because this question does not have a one-size-fits-all answer, program staff should consider the unique types of resources and support they provide, and tailor their services depending on what is most suitable, relevant, and accessible for the fathers they serve.
How can I make my organization more accommodating toward young fathers?
You can start by assessing your organization’s friendliness toward young fathers. A checklist of methods is provided to improve outreach and communication to make your organization more young-father-friendly through messaging, staff practices, programming, and policies. It may be helpful to use a variety of messages, including having an updated website, posting upcoming events on social media, texting current clients, and posting fliers within your local community.
Where can I access more information regarding how to best reach young fathers in my community?
The webinar “Working with Young Fathers: Tips from the Field” is a great resource. Speakers provide many tips from veteran practitioners on how to best engage young fathers and highlight several best practice case studies.
What are some ways my organization can use the internet to more effectively reach and communicate with young fathers?
Regardless of whether your organization uses a website or social media platform, there are several takeaways that are recommended. Use content that delivers quick and simple messages and pictures; for instance, pictures of fathers with their children can be great attention grabbers. Include photos, infographics, and other images to enhance engagement, as well as video and music to deliver messages that resonate with young fathers. Tagging your organization or tweeting relevant fatherhood topics can help build awareness of your program’s services. You can also spread the word by asking graduates and former participants to “Like” or forward your posts to friends, in order to increase your program’s name recognition. Make sure that your sites are always up to date with upcoming events, classes, or get-togethers.