Lads Need Dads: Helping boys with absent fathers be the best that they can be

Photo of a group session for Lads Need Dads, an initiative which helps boys with absent fathers

The latest blog in our ‘father to the fatherless’ series comes from guest blogger Sonia Shaljean.

Sonia is founder and managing director of an Essex-based initiative that is getting national attention.

Founded in 2015 Lads Need Dads is an award-winning not-for-profit Community Interest Company. It was set up to prevent potential problems and address existing ones where boys are missing a father-figure in their lives.

Our aim is to equip and empower boys during the critical ages of 11 to 15 to be motivated, responsible, capable, resilient and emotionally competent. We believe prevention is crucial in reducing the growing number of boys coming from fatherless homes each year who under achieve at school, struggle with their mental health, are excluded from school or engage in offending behaviour.

Lads Need Dads is a growing organisation which started at grassroots level with one woman’s vision to ‘prevent’ future generations of young males with absent fathers becoming high risk and a future social care statistic.

Early intervention

Our core services include an 18-month early intervention group work programme, called Equip, plus Engage and Inspire, which incorporates personal development, outdoor activities, practical life-skill training, community volunteering, peer mentoring and leadership opportunities. Once completed, boys become Ambassadors and can attend an open-ended well-being group to continue accessing mentor and peer support.

A high percentage of boys who complete our programmes not only have increased emotional literacy, confidence, motivation, self-esteem and have improved relationships, attitude and educational attainment at school, they also get on better with and see more of their biological fathers, from whom they were initially estranged.

Three boys enjoying an outdoor climbing activity, as part of the Lads Need Dads Equip programme
GREAT OUTDOORS: Enjoyment on the Lads Need Dads Equip programme

As a country we spend approximately £51 billion responding to family breakdown(1). Research cited by the Department for Work and Pensions in 2018 (2) shows that children with highly involved dads do better at school, have higher self-esteem and are less likely to get into trouble in adolescence. In a study published in 2017, the children of active fathers were up to 28 per cent less likely to suffer behavioural problems in their pre-teen years compared to children without a father figure at home (3).

Feelings of abandonment

Absence can take many forms. Approximately 15% of boys referred to us have fathers who have died. The majority have left the family home due to relationship breakdown.

Some may live away or abroad. Some boys may have never met their father. Many of the boys we encounter on our programmes struggle with feelings of abandonment and low self-esteem, due to the lack of interest and/or a father’s love in their lives.

Many are referred to our programme with anger issues which often appear to stem from a lack of trust.

A support worker and a boy holding a large fish, during an outdoor Lads Need Dads fishing activity
GONE FISHING: Enjoying a day out

The impact of a positive father in a child’s life cannot be overestimated. Without interventions like Lads Need Dads, as boys grow into adolescence and young adulthood, these problems may contribute to contact with the criminal justice system, use of illicit substances, as well as a variety of mental health problems.


One example of a Lads Need Dads intervention is that with George and his mum Annie:

Lads Need Dads has been a fantastic influence on George’s teen years… when he started, he suffered terribly with anxiety and depression, he had several nervous tics and could not be left alone even downstairs


With help and encouragement from Lads Need Dads he’s gained self respect and found some amazing strategies to help himself. He has learnt to open-up and talk through his problems, not bottle them up. His tics have all disappeared, he has cut his long droopy hair that he hid behind and he’s become much more confident in himself,” she adds.

A support worker demonstrates wall painting to a boy, during an indoor Lads Need Dads activity session

“For us, Lads Need Dads came just at the right time and I cannot praise and thank them enough. George really enjoyed learning new life-skills and bonded well with the male mentors.

I feel very fortunate that he has been given this opportunity and I also appreciate the support as a mother too. I always felt George was in good hands and knew that I could talk about any issues we faced, and help would be given. Thank you is not a big enough phrase to express our gratitude.

Of course, it goes without saying that girls need dads too, but for boys growing up without a positive male influence during the critical teenage years, research shows they are placed at a higher risk and require additional support and intervention.

Sonia Shaljean has twenty-five years’ experience working with males across the social care sector. She is married and a mother of three teenage sons.

A profile picture of the Lads Need Dads founder and MD, Sonia Shaljean
FOUNDER AND MD: Sonia Shaljean


(1) Relationships Foundation2018

(2) Department for Work and Pensions, Father Engagement Seminar, 29th February 2016

(3) Charles Opondo, Maggie Redshaw, Emily Savage-McGlynn and Maria A Quigley, Father involvement in early child-rearing and behavioural outcomes in their pre-adolescent children: evidence from the ALSPAC UK birth cohort [accessed via: (15/09/17)]

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