INSIDE STORY: Fathers Plus

By Gordon Carson

| 17 February 2004

What it is: A project that aims to ensure the role of the father in the family is valued

Goal: To transform practice in family services towards men

Funding: 34,000 (50,000 euros) from the Bernard van Lear Foundation in the Netherlands, plus income generated from conferences and seminars

Contact: Roger Olley, project manager, 0191 256 2444

"The press has given men a bad reputation," says Roger Olley, project manager of Fathers Plus. "All we get are high-profile, very nasty images of men."

However, his project, based at regional charity Children North East, is doing its best to counter these concerns. Fathers Plus has operated for seven years and deals with hundreds of men and children each year.

It works on the premise that fathers are important and not, as suggested recently when the laws for IVF treatment changed, that they are "no longer required".

Fathers Plus works with SureStart programmes and Children's Fund schemes to organise activities for dads. In one SureStart programme, for example, Fathers Plus runs a Saturday dads group for men and their kids, offering activities such as games of rounders.

Last year's Christmas party attracted 253 fathers and children and other initiatives included a men's health day, where a nurse talked to 25 fathers about testicular and prostate cancer and tested their blood pressure.

There is also a martial arts group to improve the fitness of dads, many of whom have high blood pressure and problems in dealing with anger.

Olley is also working with fathers in Durham maximum security prison.

He says the biggest benefit of Fathers Plus has been getting policy- and decision-makers to consider the needs of fathers.

"There has been father blindness," he adds. "In childcare, particularly, organisations are female-generated and female-focused. There aren't many men working in this area."

What's next? On 11 March the project is hosting a conference in Newcastle entitled Working with Fathers: improving children's lives. In the next three years the project's emphasis will shift to deal with the children's service reforms set out in Every Child Matters.

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