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среда, 5 апреля 2017 г.

Welcome to teen dads' school

Teenage fathers are absent good-for-nothings, right? Wrong. They want to raise their kids, they just don’t know how...

The smell of aftershave lingers in the small room as more than a dozen teenage lads dressed in baggy jeans and T-shirts shuffle towards a row of shabby-looking chairs.
Aged between 16 and 19, every one of them is, or is about to be, a teen dad. Taking centre stage is Jordan Carter, 16, who is fastening a nappy on to a life-sized baby doll. He finishes with a deft flourish. "Who's next?" he grins, as the next candidate steps forward.
This is just one of the practical lessons on a course run by Barnardo's and Newcastle City Council to help teenage boys develop the skills they need to cope with a baby.

The boys get some 'dad' lessons from Kenneth Pervis
One of the pupils is Callum Phillips. He was just 15 when his 16-year-old girlfriend, Sam Graham, discovered she was pregnant. Careless with contraception, they presumed they wouldn't get caught out. "I never planned to be a young dad," Callum, says. "So when it happened, I had no idea what to do."
The couple discussed abortion, but decided to keep their child. And Callum soon discovered that the transition from carefree schoolboy to dad wasn't easy.
"Initially, I didn't think about the baby at all," he confesses. "I spent most nights hanging around the streets with my mates, drinking and smoking cannabis. I had no plans for the future, no ambition and no clue about kids. Looking back, I was really scared."
He went with Sam to her 12-week scan, at a special unit for young mums. There he met Norman Nur, Newcastle's young fathers' support worker. He explained about his 'school' for teen dads.
In the past three years, Norman's courses have helped almost 100 teen boys prepare for fatherhood - the youngest was just 15. His weekly workshops cover everything from nappy changing to managing a family budget and understanding post-natal depression.
As well as the baby basics, the lads also get help and support with finding a home for their family, returning to education and getting a job.
While the public perception of teenage dads is that of wasters and hoodies, who leave the girls holding the baby, Norman insists the reality couldn't be more different.
"Research shows many young dads actively want to be involved in their children's lives," Norman explains. "But the majority of support for young parents focuses on mums. The lads are often sidelined, making them feel uninvolved and ultimately unnecessary.
"I want them to understand that they're just as important as the mother in their child's life. They have a vital role to play and by acknowledging them, boosting their self-esteem and confidence, they're more likely to rise to the role."

Callum with Natalia
The first obstacle Norman often faces is the boys themselves. "At first, I didn't want to go on the course," Callum says. "I thought it would be a waste of time. But Norman talked me round. And I'm glad he did. I've learnt so much about being a good dad, and meeting the other lads really helped."
One of eight children, Callum's parents separated when he was 13. He has had a good relationship with his dad - something he wanted to emulate with his child and which started when his daughter Natalia was born.
"Norman explained it was going to be messy and loud and that I'd have to see Sam in pain," Callum, now 18, says. "If it hadn't been for those lessons, I might have been shocked. Instead, I was calm, confident and able to support Sam."
In the delivery suite, Callum discovered that he still faced prejudice as a young dad. Many of the boys in the group have had experience of midwives ignoring them as well as other support staff dismissing them.

Callum cut Natalia's umbilical cord
When Natalia was finally born after 27 hours of labour on April 2, 2008, weighing 8lb 15oz, Callum cut the cord.
"When I held her in my arms she looked so beautiful and I kept thinking: 'I made her.' It was an incredible feeling."
But even with all his preparation, the reality was tough. "Getting up in the night is the hardest thing," he says. "I'd learnt on the course that it would be difficult, but Natalia woke every few hours for months. Sam and I took alternate nights caring for her, but it was hard."
Norman's seen this many times before. "No matter how much you talk about it, you can never really be prepared for the sleeplessness and the round-the-clock responsibility," he says.
The course also helps the boys understand how a baby can change the relationship with their partners.
"It's important that whether the boys are with the baby's mother or not, that they can have a good relationship with her," Norman says. "One of our key roles is mediation, so if there are problems, they can be worked through."
The oldest member of the group is Kenneth Pervis, 28. He had his first child at 18, and he and his girlfriend Angela have since had four more, including premature twins who sadly died aged just 27 weeks.
He is studying to become a youth worker and acts as a mentor.
"This group is a lifeline for most of the lads here," he explains. "It helped me through my issues, including losing the twins, which was the toughest time of my life.
"There's lots of happiness in parenthood, but I think if most lads knew what the realities of becoming a dad so young are, they wouldn't do it."
The youngest in the group is 16-year-old Jordan Carter. He was 14 when his girlfriend, Natasha, now 19, fell pregnant.
"I was more scared of what Natasha's mum would say than I was of becoming a dad," he remembers. "She stopped speaking to me for a while. But Natasha and I stayed together. My daughter Chanelle is 21 months old now and she's perfect. If I had the chance, I'd have waited until I was a bit older to have had her. But I can't regret what happened.
"I want to get an apprenticeship. I'm not sure what in yet, but I want to work for my daughter."
Unemployed Callum feels the same way. "I don't miss my old life," he says. "But I wouldn't recommend anyone having a baby so young. It's not ideal. Things would have been so much harder without the course. I'd still have tried my best, but it's been a lot easier with the confidence I've got now."
Callum, who has moved in with Sam, now 19, finds the course so useful, he still attends weekly. "Being a father is a full-time lesson," he says. "At the group I get help and advice about housing, keeping on top of money, finding work. I also talk over things and tell the other dads what its like."
The course is the first of its kind in the UK and last month was recognised for its work by the British Journal of Midwifery Awards. Other local authorities and charities are now looking to Norman to help roll out similar courses across the country.
"These lads need people to not judge them negatively. We need to give them the skills to make the best of the difficult situation they find themselves in," says Norman.
'I was just a kid myself- how could I be a dad?'


Adam O'Moore, 20, and his fiancée Mel Hulse, 19, are parents to 14-month-old Megan and live in Gateshead.
Adam says: ''I was stunned when Mel told me she was pregnant. We'd only been together three months and had always been careful to use condoms. I was just 18 and Mel was 17, but neither of us ever considered a termination, we didn't even discuss it.

I used to spend my time hanging around street corners with my mates till all hours of the morning, doing drugs and drinking, with no thought for the future. But as soon as I found out I was going to be a dad, I went straight down to the JobCentre and got work as a night porter in a hotel, and then I tried to get a flat. I kept thinking: 'I'm just a kid myself, how can I become a father?' Then I met Norman and joined the dads' group.
During her pregnancy, Mel became very emotional and used to fly off the handle a lot, which was tough. Just talking to the other dads about how stressed their partners were while expecting really helped - I understood I had to support her, not get annoyed myself.
The birth was really emotional. I was crying and shaking so much when Megan was born that I couldn't cut the cord! She weighed 7lb 6oz and was absolutely gorgeous.

Adam, Mel and Megan
I'd never even held a baby before I had Megan - and I was so scared I wouldn't know what to do. The course made me realise all dads feel the same - it wasn't just me! And being taught basic things like how to make up bottles and sterilise them properly and how to stay calm when your baby cries, really helped.
I don't see the mates I used to hang around with anymore. They're still doing the same stuff, wandering round the streets till the early hours of the morning and drinking. Now I'd rather be home with Mel and Megan. If it hadn't been for Megan - and Norman's support - I'd still be doing that too. I'd probably have fallen into crime as well. They saved me from that."
Mel says: "When I found out I was pregnant, I was scared to tell Adam, as I didn't know how he'd react, I worried he might want to split up. But he was excited, and I was so pleased.
The group really built his confidence. He'd often talk to me about what he was learning - he was really excited and even brought leaflets home about baby massage. He's a really good dad, and together we make a great team."
  • For more information about Barnado's work visit Barnados.org.uk.
THE EXPERT



Adrienne Burgess, head of research at The Fatherhood Institute, says teen dads deserve better.

"We estimate there are around 120,000 teen dads in the UK. The idea that young men will clear off as soon as their girlfriends discover they're pregnant is wide of the mark. Most desperately want to stay close to their child.
Most teenage parents come from disadvantaged backgrounds so they may not have the skills to maintain successful relationships. If they don't have help to develop them, they tend to give up. It's not just the practicalities of changing a nappy teen dads need support with. As many of the boys were raised without a father, they don't know how to be a good dad.
Most groups focus on teen mums. The lads don't have that support, but boys need the chance to prove themselves and learn the skills they need to be the fathers they want - and deserve - to be."
  • For more information, see Fatherhoodinstitute.org.

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