Rachel Duncan: Fathers Together study update

The Fathers Together study has recently hit a major milestone: finishing data collection across our five prisons! We are one step closer to developing a parenting programme to promote wellbeing for young fathers in prison and their families.

Since May 2023, we have conducted almost 500 structured interviews with prisoners aged 18-25, and further qualitative interviews with those with parental responsibilities. Engagement has been positive throughout, which is really encouraging for an under-served population. Notably, response rates have averaged around 75%, as we had hoped.

It has been a real privilege to conduct many of these interviews. Each week I was inspired by prisoners’ willingness to talk so openly about their lives, often marred by adverse childhood experiences and their own experience of family imprisonment. This provided a constant and crucial reminder of the value in our work to break these intergenerational cycles, and kept me motivated on several long, winter days in the prisons. I hope we do justice to the time and knowledge they all contributed.

Over the next few weeks, we will conduct our final interviews with staff across the criminal justice sector, and family members of a young adult in prison to understand their experiences. We will then start to analyse the data collected to identify the needs of young adult prisoners, and the proportion of which are young fathers. Findings will also be presented to each prison, to provide insight into current practice and initiate change.

We continue to meet monthly with our public involvement group, consisting of men with lived experience of being a father in prison. The group are a core part of the research team and will aid data interpretation, drawing on their expertise. We are currently producing some exciting media outputs around their lived experience, so watch out for these soon. We have already published blogs by our Public Involvement Lead, Tanya Tracey, and one of our valued group members, Kevin that evidence how worthwhile this work is. Kevin aptly wrote, “It’s very important that the father’s perspective is taken into consideration because then the programme itself can be more helpful and effective and made useful by fathers that have been through the same situation.”

We must also acknowledge the research assistance provided by multiple NHS trusts (CNWL, Camden and Islington) and NIHR Clinical Research Networks, as well as invaluable support from each prison site. We hugely appreciate their role in achieving such impressive results.

Our next big step is to plan workshops with key stakeholders in the spring. This will involve discussion on how to convert all the information gathered to design and implement an effective parenting programme. I am personally excited to see things finally come together!

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