Reaching Out to Young Fathers
Outreach and recruitment with young fathers may need to be designed differently than those for older fathers. Understanding who they are and what their world is like is critical. Many practitioners recommend first identifying and addressing any personal or organizational stereotypes that portray young fathers as unconcerned, aloof, sexually exploitative, or eager to avoid responsibility during and after the pregnancy. Based on research and input from practitioners working with young fathers, no evidence supports these stereotypes.11
Rather, 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 experience depression and anxiety about the health of the mother and child, their relationship with the mother, the impact on their personal freedom and leisure time, and their ability to complete school or find employment. 12 Although they could benefit from participation in a fatherhood program or other family support services, they are unlikely to actively look for help unless there is a highly visible program in their community or they have heard of such a program from friends. Even if they have heard of a local fatherhood program, they may be uncertain or suspicious of the program’s goals, particularly if they have heard other young fathers talk about child support responsibilities.
Active community outreach by understanding, caring staff is needed to reach these fathers. Barry McIntosh of the support group Young Fathers of Santa Fe said, “[When I meet] a new father, one of my first tasks, after being sure to listen closely to what he has to say, is to ask him if he wants to be involved in his child's life. Most say yes. Then we cover the rights and responsibilities, stressing the importance of establishing paternity and having your name on the birth certificate.”