Unlocking dads’ inside drive to be a Dad

Unlocking dads’ inside drive to be a Dad

Time for you and Your Child is an eight-session parenting course developed from 2011 by Spurgeons’ Invisible Walls programme, at Winchester Prison. As Kerry Longhorn, who leads Invisible Walls, explains there was a need for a parenting programme that was suitable for fathers in custody.

The first thing we did at Invisible Walls was talk and listen to fathers in the prison about where they felt they most needed help. Some fathers had been really ‘hands on’ right up until they came into prison, others were not currently able to have contact with their children because of the level of risk they posed due to lifestyle choices and past behaviours.

What was very clear to us, though, was how important being a father was to all the dads and yet their identity as a father wasn’t recognised by the prison system, which only saw them in terms of their crimes.

We spent about two years developing Time for You and Your Child, using ideas and themes that we were familiar with from delivering parenting programmes in the community and working with families.

Based on what the men were telling us, we identified four key areas to focus on:

  • Looking After Yourself
  • Staying Involved
  • Communication
  • Relationships

It is always very important that we are positive. Even when things feel very negative and complicated, we try to get the fathers to focus on the future and the steps that need to be taken, however small. We use games and we have a laugh, finishing the course with a fun quiz that also helps to put together a personal action plan based on the dad’s learning from the course.

”I feel I know where I’m going; I’m more confident now as a parent.”

We are very clear that there is no such thing as a perfect parent but that it is about being ‘good enough’. Many of the men have had traumatic and very difficult childhood experiences themselves and have a deep distrust of agencies. The fact they come voluntarily to our groups and are willing to open up to us and to each other is seen very much as a privilege.

”I feel better, calmer – reassured that I am a good dad!”

We dedicate a lot of time to creating a safe, supportive environment and one father described coming to the sessions as being ”like coming up for air” as he felt it was the only place he could talk and be treated as a father.

Since it was always an ambition to roll our what we think (and the men have to us) is a programme that works so well in the prison setting we have developed a Train the Trainer pack for other Spurgeons prison support services.

It’s been hugely satisfying to see Time for You and Youg Child build so strongly, both at Winchester and at other prisons, forged largely from the experiences of those it’s intended to serve – dads in prison and their families.

Additionally, the team at Invisible Walls have also developed a programme of  ‘Time for You and Your Baby’ workshops, knowing the importance of building positive attachment between parents and babies in those early days, weeks, months and years. The workshops focus on the need to encourage dads by building their confidence and developing a strong father/baby attachment, with different approaches used for different dads – whether they’re dads-to-be, first-time dads or fathers of older babies, for example.

About Spurgeons Prison-based Family Support Services:

Spurgeons delivers family support services in 12 prisons across England. These services provide family support services for prisoners and their families and friends who visit them, with a particular focus on children and strengthening family relationships. We appreciate how important prison visits are for everyone involved. Our aim is to make them less daunting so that the time spent together helps families to re-connect in a positive way. We are always here to offer practical and emotional support.

To learn more about our work in prisons, click here.