The purpose of this paper is to explore the experiences of five men participating in the Mellow Dads Parenting Programme delivered for the first time in an English Prison, in partnership with a neighbouring local authority.
Interviews conducted before and after the programme were analysed through the perspective of a group of community-based peer researchers, former graduates of the community-based programme. The study prioritised the peer researchers’ “insider knowledge”, drawing on a transformative paradigm to illuminate the strengths and challenge the assumptions often held about fathers in the context of vulnerable families.
Using a thematic framework, the research group found that the programme facilitators were fundamental in providing a safe and nurturing space within which participants could openly reflect and consider their past experiences whilst acquiring new skills. Participants reported changes in their understanding of themselves, their children and their perceptions of accessing parenting groups. The programme’s unique provision of weekly activity sessions without the presence of the children’s mothers enabled the participants to legitimise their role and parent in a way unavailable since their incarceration. The integrated approach to service delivery enabled practitioners from within the prison and the community to adopt a shared culture focused upon the whole family in the context of the ongoing incarceration of the father.
The findings detail the potential in local partnerships between organisations committed to strengthening family connections, in particular the need to reconsider the current policy of providing additional visits in order to strengthen family relationships.
The unique partnership between the author and the community-based peer researchers illuminates an invaluable perspective when exploring the pilot of Mellow Dads, the findings of which have the potential to challenge the ways in which the fathering role is promoted and fulfilled within the prison system.
Funding: This project was supported by the doctoral scholarship programme of the Economic and Social Research Council (award reference ES/J50001X/1).
The author would like to thank the peer researchers for their time, commitment and enthusiasm for the project along with the research participants who shared their experiences.
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