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Much of the researches available on young parenthood have focused on the experiences of teenage mothers and mainly those separated from the young fathers. Subsequently, efforts have been made to ascertain the proportional involvement of fathers in various aspects of parenting and the distinctive contributions of fathers (knight et. Al, 2006). There are significant gaps in the provision of service for teenage fathers (Cater et al 2006). Practitioners wishing to offer support for the young fathers face a number of barriers such as the difficultly in finding young fathers, the lack of adequate support for young fathers when they are identified, complicated family issues, educational difficulties and the negative attitudes of individual professionals.
Despite the growing research on young fathers, there remains a dearth of research that recognises the wide diversity of young fatherhood and the different needs young fathers may have (e.g. young fathers in care, young fathers in prison, non-resident fathers, young fathers from ethnic minority groups). Young fathers are invisible as a group, yet they are more likely to require support services and be affected by unemployment, poor housing, and a lack of education (Speak et al., 1997). It is therefore not surprising that little is known about the expectations and experiences of young fathers in accessing support and the barriers they face.
The study arose from the observation that there is limited information available in current research on the views and experiences of young fathers in Outer London Borough. Much of the research that is available on young parents focuses on the experiences of young mothers. This study sought to establish, from the perspective of young fathers and the organisations that worked with them their expectations and experiences in accessing support and the effectiveness of the support available.
How accessible and effective are the support available to young fathers in meeting their socio-economic needs in Outer London Borough?
The aims of my research are:
to identify which organisations are offering support to young fathers and how they worked with them;
to explore young fathers’ view of support available to them and the obstacles they face in accessing it;
to establish, from the view point of young fathers and the organisations that worked with them the effectiveness of the support.
The qualitative paradigm aims to understand the social world from the viewpoint of respondents, through detailed descriptions of their cognitive and symbolic actions, and through the richness of meaning associated with observable behavior (Wildemuth, 1993).
The research would be undertaken using the following qualitative research techniques:
Structured interviews with young fathers and service providers.
Case study review of projects and initiatives that provide practical support to young fathers.
Desk Scoping focused on investigating into the existing evidence. This included searching the following sources:
An extensive search was made of all relevant databases, libraries and journals for literature sources pertaining to the project issue. In addition a comprehensive review of internet based literature and resources were made. Using the London South Bank University library online resources via http://library.lsbu.ac.uk, ASSIA (Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts), an electronic resource, was searched, 51 results were found using the term young parenthood (search was from 2001 to current), 33 results were found using the term teenage father (search was from 2002 to current to reduce the search result to a manageable number) and 9 results were found using the terms young father and support. ASSIA covers English language journals in applied social sciences and includes health, economics, social issues & social policy, organisational behaviour and communication.
Relevant governmental organisations’ websites were searched for information gathering.
As relevant reports were identified through these avenues, the references within these reports were followed as a way of further identifying relevant research reports.
The most common forms of collecting qualitative data are participant observation and in-depth interviewing (Kenworth, Snowley & Gilling 2004). Cohen & Manion (1993) interviews are initiated by the reviewer for the specific purpose of obtaining research-relevant information and focused by (her or) him on content specified by research objectives of systematic description, prediction or explanation.
7 semi-structured interviews will be conducted with service delivery personnel from those organisations offering specialist support to young fathers (social services, connexions, parenting support, parentingUK, first housing, health agency, and employment support). These interviews would be conducted by telephone to identify common/different support practices and to evaluate their perceived effectiveness.
In addition to the interviews, local service providers would take part in informal meetings. Some would be interviewed at the start of the study and provide information on the local context. Others would provide ongoing dialogue during the time of the study, particularly those from maternity services in the study localities. A roundtable dissemination event would be held towards the end of the study to discuss findings and their relevance for local practice and policy.
A minimum of 10 semi-structured interviews would be held with young fathers (young fathers in care, young fathers in prison, non-resident fathers and young fathers from ethnic minority groups) who have either received or not received support. Due to the delicate nature of these interviews and the potential vulnerability of the participants, an appropriate qualified researcher, following the strictest ethical guidelines, will sensitively conduct interview. Prior to any interviews, the researcher will update their Child Protection Training to ensure that s/he is fully aware of current relevant issues.
The core themes to be explored through the structured interviews are:
identifying the support needs of young fathers;
local services available to young fathers, both practical and emotional;
partnership working among agencies that provide young fathers with support;
opportunities and challenges to providing practical support to young fathers.
Interview will be conducted in the participants’ homes and supported by adult family member or friend. Parental/guardian consent will be confirmed prior to the interview and all interviews will be recorded digitally. Data will be held in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.
Their names and other identifying information would be anonymised in the presentation of finding. The young people taking part would be assured in writing and verbally that the narratives they shared would be treated in confidence and that confidentiality would be breached only in the event of disclosure or child protection concerns being revealed regarding issues not already known to the relevant agencies.
A semi-structured interview will be used by the same researcher to ensure consistency; all interviews will be digitally recorded with consent and lasted between 20 and 60 minutes. Digital recording the interviews would enhance the reliability of the interview. Using semi-structured interviews in this study enables the interviewer to be guided by the participant who should be encouraged to talk freely, even though the interviewer may have certain points to cover.
Participant will be recruited in the following way:
Young fathers who have used organisations offering specialist (social services, connexions, parenting support, parentingUK, first housing, health agency, and employment support) support will be contacted via a list to be provided by the agencies and invited to join the study only after securing the young person’s agreement and parental/guardian consent. For others who have not used specialist services, would be recruited through their children’s mothers or via local contacts and word of mouth.
Young fathers will be encouraged to participate in the study, through awarding a £10 ASDA voucher to all participants. Should sufficient participants be identified, selection through criteria including age, gender and ethnicity type will be made to ensure a broad representation of demographic groups.
To explore in more depth the experiences of young fathers and to understand more fully the practice of those organisations offering activities to young fathers, three case studies were reviewed. These case studies are examples of projects or initiatives that provide practical support to young fathers. The aim of the review was to explore the range of approaches that have been developed to support the practical needs of young fathers, highlighting successes, challenges faced and lessons learned.
The findings reported here centre mainly on the experiences of becoming and being a father from the viewpoints of the young men involved in the case studies. Additionally the report includes some young women’s perspectives on the young men as fathers.
It is anticipated that in order to complement existing longitudinal survey data, the current study will employ primarily qualitative methods to explore the young fathers expectations and experiences in accessing support and the effectiveness of the support they receive. The aim of a qualitative researcher is to explore people’s experiences, feelings and beliefs so that statements about how people interpret and structure their lives can be made (Holloway & Wheeler 1996).
The Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) approach would be used for this study and will provide an insight and understanding of young fathers expectations and experiences in accessing support and the effectiveness of the support. IPA was chosen over the ‘Grounded Theory’ approach (Glaser & Strauss 1967), as we do not want to develop a theory but to understand and explore how the participants understood their personal and social environment and what experiences and events meant for them.
It is envisage that a retrospective, life-history approach, including a range of groups (e.g. young fathers in care, young fathers in prison, non-resident fathers, young fathers from ethnic minority groups and practitioners) will give insights into young fathers’ expectations and experiences in accessing support and the effectiveness of the support they receive. I expect the sample to reflect a sufficient range of potentially significant variables such as gender, age, ethnicity and social background.
The ethical committee within the London South Bank University (LSBU) would consider the study for approval. All participants would be given information sheets explaining the procedure. Before giving signed consent, participants would be advised that they were free to leave at any time. Pilot studies would be done of the questions being asked to check the clarity of the language.
Beck & Hungler (2001) suggest that four ethical principles must be considered when participating in research: (1) the right not to be harmed, (2) the right to be fully informed on all aspects of the study, (3) the right to decide to take part or not (and the right to withdraw at any time) and (4) the right to privacy, anonymity and confidentiality.
Qualitative research commences during the process of data collection. While the researcher processes the information patterns are then looked for during the interview and then select a theme to follow. The data analysis continues throughout the interviews and also once data is collected. Two researchers will independently undertake the analysis and checked and re-checked with each other for emergent themes.
Diversity within the sample would allow for the exploration of young fathers’ experiences across a range of circumstances relating to their age, locality, education and employment, living arrangements, relationships with their partner, support from family and friends, contact with formal services, etc.
Social work and qualitative research share the mutual goals of dealing with subjectivity, describing the complexity of lived experience, and appreciating realities where intuition is valued. Qualitative methodology is, therefore, in my view a suitable method to be employed in researching the expectations and experiences of young fathers in accessing support.
Researchers would take necessary steps not to introduce bias by accidentally reporting their interpretation of participants’ feelings. At the beginning of the study researchers would declare and record their feelings. The researchers would also ensure that the level of subjectivity remains at a relatively neutral level.
Ethical issues are important and would be considered at every step of the research process. This is not just about obtaining ‘ethical approval’ for a study but also ensuring the rights of participants are not violated. When reporting the findings of the research, participants’ anonymity and confidentiality would not be breached.
The role of the interviewer is to encourage participants to discuss their experiences of the phenomenon. It is possible that in the cause of the interview participants could inadvertently discuss personal information that they had not planned to reveal, or that may rekindle tragic or uncomfortable experiences related to this study. Researchers would continue to negotiate with participants to ascertain whether they wish to continue with the interview or not. Psychological support would be in place to manage any emotional distress that may result from the interview. Everything would be done in the course of the study to protect the rights of vulnerable respondents.
The researchers would not make any exaggerated claims as to the significance of the research and implications for practice, and further research would be located in the study’s findings. Moreover, the researcher would relate the findings of the study back to the original research purpose, and illustrate whether or not it has been adequately addressed (Thorne et al., 2005). The researchers would conclude by placing the findings in a context that indicates how this new information is of interest, and its implications for social work. These conclusions would reflect the study’s findings and ideally would offer recommendations as to how they may be developed.
The most common criteria used to evaluate qualitative research studies are credibility, dependability, transferability and confirmability (Lincoln et al., 1985). It is therefore important that the readers are able to identify the criteria used and are able to clearly follow each step of the research process.
To ensure the credibility of the study process, the study would address the issue of whether there is consistency between the participants’ views and the researcher’s representation of them. The participants would be consulted at every stage of the study and they would be allowed to read and discuss the study findings. The researcher would also describe and interpret his experience as a researcher.
The study would provide evidence of a decision trail at each stage of the research process. Future researchers would clearly be able to follow the trail used by the researchers and potentially arrive at the same or comparable conclusions. The researchers would demonstrate how conclusions and interpretations have been derived from the data. It’s hoped that the findings would be transferable to other context outside the study situation and people who were not involved in the research study would find the results meaningful.
One of the shortcomings of a qualitative research based study of this nature is their lack of objectivity and generalisation of their findings. The study has been designed to seek answers to how persons or groups make sense of their experiences. In my view small qualitative studies can gain a more personal understanding of the phenomenon and the results can potentially contribute valuable knowledge to the community. Hamilton (1980) asserts that the value of a study is established by reference to the phenomena it seeks to comprehend and the understandings it aspires to develop. Stake (1980) suggests that using qualitative methodology in this type of study may be in conceptual harmony with the service users’ experience and thus be a natural basis for generalization.
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