Led by Dr Emma Langley (Assistant Professor, University of Warwick), alongside members of the Fathers Active In Research (FAIR) group
A recording of the webinar is now available if you’d like to catch up in full.
Dr Langley opened her talk by introducing her area of work, which focuses on conducting applied research that has a positive impact on the everyday lives of disabled people and their families. The focus of her research has increasingly focussed on fathers of disabled children, as throughout her studies and subsequent work she’s found that the voice of fathers has been missing.
She went on to emphasise how important the role is that fathers play in the lives of their child and recognising and supporting the needs of fathers will have a positive impact on them and their whole family. Research has done quite a good job of understanding the experiences of mothers of a disabled child, it’s just as important that we understand the perspective of dads as well to inform the development of evidence based support for them in their role.
Research findings: challenges that fathers say they are experiencing in their parenting role
Dr Langley has conducted a small scale research project (a pilot study) exploring the parenting experiences of 13 fathers via Zoom interviews. The pilot study aimed to gather information directly from fathers about what support they need at different points in their parenting journey and what factors influence their experiences. The results will inform the design of a larger study in the future. Fathers were involved as advisors on the design of the study to ensure it was designed with fathers needs in mind.
Dr Langley explained some of the findings that came out of the pilot study, including the fathers describing the roles that they play in their children and families lives (including for the child, their partner and for the family) and how this changed over time as well as things that hindered them in their parenting role (see 5.51). Dr Langley also discussed issues that the fathers said had an impact on their mental health, including coming to terms with their child’s diagnosis in the early days and feeling isolated from friends as time went by (see 20.03). The feelings of fathers were explored in relation to being a ‘good’ dad, and how this was impacted by their circumstances (24.08). Fathers also talked about their interactions with professionals and services and things they were facing when trying to be an involved dad (28.33). The amount of support the fathers received was discussed and the types of support they’d have liked (31.05).
The overarching theme emerging from this research is that there is a real support need for fathers of disabled children. There is a real lack of support or appropriate space for fathers to talk about what they have been through and a place to discuss things at key stages of their child’s life.
Quote from a father: ‘Dads are sort of left out, or we feel like that anyway…service provision is geared towards mothers or females, often when we’re working with professionals our thoughts and our views and our emotions are not really delved into as much I think’. (Jak)
Please see the catch-up video to hear in more detail about the exploratory findings from this pilot study.
A wellbeing support resource for dads by dads
Dr Langley and the Fathers Active in Research (FAIR) group worked together to co-create a resource for other dads of disabled children to support their wellbeing. The team produced a series of video’s covering a number of themes shown by research to be important (fathers introduce the resource, see 35.05). The video resource is free to view and share amongst your networks.
Project and video overview: warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/cedar/familyresearch/fatheradvisorygroup/
- Episode 1: Introduction – YouTube
- Episode 2: Parenting disabled children – YouTube
- Episode 3: Well-being and work-life balance – YouTube
- Episode 4: Relationships in the family – YouTube
- Episode 5: Acceptance and Understanding – YouTube
- Episode 6: Advice For Dads – YouTube
Engaging and supporting fathers in your work
Dr Langley spent some time thinking about how professionals and services can involve dads more (see 1.05). A central tenant of this was that communication with dads is really important in a number of ways, to see what they need, to communicate any offerings in a father friendly way and not to assume a lack of contact means they are not involved in their child’s care. Working on father apprehension to engage with any support will be vital. Breaking the ice may take some time, patience and careful thought. One father suggested something virtual could be arranged at first, so fathers can initially engage and decide if a face-to-face meet-up group could work for them.
Dr Langley and FAIR have created a webpage for a fathers support group that takes place in Coventry and Warwickshire. You could use this as an example when setting up your own support group aimed specifically for fathers. Fathers themselves may find this useful as inspiration to set up their own group in their area.
Feedback received about the webinar
‘I just wanted to say what a breath of fresh air it was to listen to the seminar last night. Just to hear that these things have been happening to other fathers (that I was not the only one) was such a relief, every single point that was made I absolutely agreed with. I am a very positive and proactive father but yet to connect to others in a similar position’.
‘It was really helpful to hear other dad’s experiences. Thanks for doing the research and for putting on the session! I think you’ve identified an oft-overlooked thing in society. And I’m sure it’ll lead to more help for lots more dads like those in the study’.
Support organisations you can contact if you’re affected by any of this content
If you are struggling emotionally it is important that you talk to someone. You could get in touch with your GP to get some tailored support. If you need to talk to someone immediately you could contact:
Samaritans provides emotional support 24 hours a day for anyone who’s having difficulty coping, who needs someone to listen without judgment or pressure.
Call: 116 123 for free
Free, confidential 24/7 mental health text support in the UK.
Text: ‘SHOUT’ 85258
Hub of Hope
Here you can search for targeted support in your area. This website includes a ‘men’s health’ section as well as lots of other useful categories.
Dr Emma Langley is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education Studies at the University of Warwick. Dr Langley was previously a Cerebra funded PhD student at CEDAR, University of Warwick.
Jane Margetson is a Research and Education Officer at the charity Cerebra.