Following Young Fathers Further
Researchers at the University of Lincoln studying the experiences of young fathers over a 4-year period have found that telephone interviews are preferred over online interviews when face-to-face isn't possible.
A research study funded by UK Research and Innovation, Following Young Fathers Further explores the parenting experiences and support needs of young fathers (aged 25 and under). In this study, young fathers are acknowledged as experts by experience. We highlight their views and experiences about how they have been engaged by health and social care services, so that those services can become more father-inclusive.
What we did
We conducted the first wave of the research between July and October 2020. As a result of physical distancing measures, we switched from face-to-face interviews to telephone interviews with young dads and online interviews with professionals who provide support to them. These professionals work for local and national organisations, local government and the statutory and voluntary sectors, and include social workers, maternity services, health visitors, individuals in education, in housing support and/or the criminal justice system.
We wanted to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted on young fathers - an under-represented group with varied support needs. To access these young men, we contacted young fathers already known to us in the Leeds area and also identified a new cohort of dads in Grimsby, our main study locations. The Leeds dads were already known to us because they had been interviewed for a linked study called Following Young Fathers that 2 of the FYFF team members had been involved in. We also wanted to document how professionals from across the health and social care landscape were affected and adapting their support for young men and their families. A total cohort of 21 young fathers were interviewed for wave 1. We plan to carry out a further additional 3 waves of interviews across this longitudinal study which spans 4 years.
As well as using mobile phones and online programs such as MS Teams to conduct the interviews, we developed project information sheets and consent forms using survey program Qualtrics and produced a video about the project so that our participants could 'see' and get to know us before the interviews. Creating video versions of the information sheets for young dads was prompted by advice from project partners that reading material could be potentially off-putting, as well as not taking into consideration variation in language and literacy levels.
Participants were asked about their reasons for taking part in our study and they provided some important insights:
Adam: "It makes me feel like I'm making a bit of a difference."
Craig: "Because we don't hear it often enough, you know, people wanting a perspective from a father's side. People always want it from the mother's side so I thought it'd be really, really good for me to get my point across as a father."
Jock: "I just think it's important that, you know, dads, you know, they don't feel like they go through it on their own. You know, just to listen or hear or see the experiences of other people that might be going through a similar situation, it's quite comforting to know that you're not on your own with it."
What worked well
Switching from face-to-face to remote interviewing with the young fathers allowed us to capture their voices, experiences and insights during the pandemic and was a practical way of responding to the limitations posed by physical distancing. We were as responsive as possible to the needs of the young dads and adapted our approach based on our learning from the professionals we interviewed. The professional interviews alerted us to the possibility of digital and data exclusion that may be experienced by the dads, so we were further convinced of the need for phone calls rather than digital methods to avoid burdens on their resources.
We also wrote a question into our wave 1 interview schedules asking re-accessed participants to reflect on their views of the shift from face-to-face interviews to telephone and online interviews. Based on our questions to young dads, we discovered that they universally preferred telephone interviews. They were considered safer due to the pandemic, they offered flexibility around participating (time and space), and for those who were isolated there seemed to enjoy the conversation. One thing we did observe was that they were hesitant to answer calls from numbers that were withheld. Early on, we had to assure participants about when we would call and the fact that we would call from a withheld number. We later purchased project-specific phones so that we could call them from a recognisable number.
As noted above, the young dads and professionals were largely positive about participation via digital methods. We did experience technical issues at times and the insights we gained include the odd reference to a researcher being muted but it certainly did not affect the quality of the findings.
While difficult to know, we suspect that we did not reach as many young fathers for interview as we would have liked. This was especially the case in Grimsby where we were accessing young men for the first time and did not have established relationships. Identifying and engaging with young men via the support of professionals is the most effective means of doing this, but that became more challenging in the pandemic context where work time was more constrained.
Dr Anna Tarrant (Researcher, University of Lincoln)