Actually Education in Conversation with Kieran from Dad Matters

Actually Education in Conversation with Kieran from Dad Matters

Actually Education are committed to sharing and spreading great advice and stories from the world of neurodiversity and as a part of our discussions with the community, and our research, we hope to also share our conversations with fascinating individuals we meet along the way.

Kieran Anders is the Operations Manager for Dad Matters, a project by Home-Start with an innovative model of universal and targeted engagement of Dads across Greater Manchester. Dad Matters aim to help Dads have successful relationships with their families, and to support them with anxiety, stress and mental health issues.

Today marks World Mental Health Day and Actually Education have a commitment to supporting mental health and the impact it has on parents and carers of those with neurodiversity conditions. Dad Matters also have a neurodiversity specialist within their team so in this talk we look more into mental health, the impact it has on dads and the great advice that Kieran can pass on.

Welcome Kieran and thanks for talking with us, can you tell us a bit about Dad Matters?

Dad Matters is a parent, infant and perinatal mental health service, we use peer support as a way to support Dads. We have different layers to what we do; we have universal engagement, education information, social media work, our website and we have targeted outreach too. We try to see Dads in places where they still see themselves as dads so we don’t go to places like gyms and football grounds. We do walkarounds on neo-natal units, paediatric wards, mother and baby units, prisons, army bases, naval bases to name a few. We also take referrals, offer one to one peer support and allow Dads to offload where we can use our training and experience to ask the right questions and find the right course of action. We specialise in the parent-infant relationship to help them have a better relationship with their baby but we know we need to support with mental health, utilising tools or signposting them to the right place.

In the last quarter we saw 1,600 dads in Greater Manchester, they receive resources about what we can do and what other services they can access. They also get asked how they are, we are normally the first to ask them that but sometimes we are the only ones to ask them that. This can lead to other discussions but often not, Dads are normally OK at the time we reach them but that’s what we want so they know we are here.

In what way is the service delivered different for Dads compared to support that Mums receive? Or is it even different?

Absolutely, the key messages [of the services mentioned] are the same that Mums get from their touch points such as health visitors, midwives, clinical pathways and peer support organisations. The critical point is that they don’t engage Dads so the engagement of Dads is a key point of what we do. Branding, language, imaging, the fact we mostly recruit men, it’s a male facing brand so they can assume something is for Mum and it’s the same information Mums are getting and they are sharing that knowledge.

The other thing that makes us stand out is we are not doing traditional Dad services. For example, play and stay services which are very valuable, Dads can go and spend time with their babies and other Dads. Often Dads go to these because they are OK and this maintains their “okayness” rather than going there because they are struggling and getting support. We work with those organisations to make sure that they are found. We are engaging dads earlier before they need us.

Activities conducted by Dad Matters

Managing mental health, anxiety and stress is a huge part of parenting, what are your top tips on managing mental health?

If you are struggling with your mental health you can miss cues from your baby, those can be subtle but when you know what they are they can be very obvious so we want to educate Dads on what to look out for and help them to understand their mental health. When we are talking about mental health for Dads, everyone says men need to open up more but what we’ve found is engaging them, asking how they are in a peer support way, we can start a conversation which will help to acknowledge that there is an issue and try to reflect on what that may be. Reflecting on what is going on and talking to someone about it, it can be a partner, a friend, a relative or if you are not comfortable in those situations it can be a closed Facebook group there’s a whole range of ways to do it and it’s not one size fits all.

On the talking side of things do you find that you do get people coming back to you? I guess there is an element of not knowing if some struggled but never came back.

Once Dads realise that they have something to deal with they also realise they’ve been struggling with it for a while so should have been active earlier. Unfortunately, some will slip through the net because you just can only provide as many pathways as possible. We have the one to one referrals that we can take, closed Facebook groups, monthly walk and talks, drop in’s alongside other play and stays as well as obvious ways like the website, phone, social media. You have to have a diverse portfolio, we are speaking to 1,600 dads and 10% are likely to have issues but men do find information and intervention may be enough for them.

Moving slightly on to what links Dad Matters and Actually Education, what in your experience do fathers of children with neurodiversity issues face?

One of our coordinators works with Dads of babies who have neurodivergence, again for us it’s about peer support and knowing they are not the only ones going through it. When you are a Dad of a child with any condition, as men we focus on supporting our partner first and we take the lead from our partner on what we do for the child. That’s probably societal overspill from how we’ve been told to parent but we have specific roles in evolutionary terms so some parts feel natural.

Other parts become very practical such as for example a wheelchair or 24 hour care, men are very good at delivering practical changes but we are not good at the emotional payoff of that. When we talk about specific neurodivergent issues, peer support feels difficult. Dads with niche issues still appreciate talking to others who don’t have such issues, the empathy is a real benefit. Sometimes you can find yourself living in a bubble, thinking no one else will understand your issues. When looking for support don’t discount those who want to learn about your experience. That said, some people can feel like they are helping when they are not and you need to be able to say “I’m not really ready for this now” or something like that for your own benefit.

I agree with all of that as a parent. You hear a lot of conflicting advice and opinions and often it’s good to take a step back and explain how you want to do it and just let your kid be a kid as well…

We often talk about containment as a principle. Each person has a bucket that you can fill up with emotions and when that bucket is full it’s really hard to put anything else in.

As parents we hold their emotions for them, it helps them to regulate and we put their emotions in a bucket with ours, sometimes it gets more full and we need to offload that somewhere and we do that by talking and sharing. Each one of those things, not eating, sleeping, colouring themselves in with a marker pen it adds to your bucket. For us we try and cascade the containment for what they deal with as an organisation. You could have 12 things on your mind but not talk about the biggest one but talking about all the smaller issues will help, the one big thing can sit in the bucket.

Going back to mental health just to round things off as it’s World Mental Health Day, it’s so important in our work too, how big of a factor is it in parenting and parental advice?

We talk about it like its separate in life. It can be positive, neutral or negative and it will impact everything you do and your relationships. In terms of parenting, mental health has to be a part of the conversation at every stage, every touch point.

Mental health is one of the most important barriers when talking about interacting and responding to babies, babies need interaction and responsivity but they don’t need it 100% of the time, 60-70% is where we need to be so they have the opportunity to learn that things are OK sometimes without us.

There’s a video called “Still Face with Dads” it’s basically showing what happens when babies get no response even if you are there, they get upset and agitated. Mental health mimics that, if you don’t respond properly in relationships with anybody so addressing it means that you can still say that you are a great parent even if your mental health might be struggling.

The team behind Dad Matters

How can people get involved with Dad Matters?

The best way is social media, our website, we have schemes all over the UK. We look for volunteers too, particularly any dads with lived experience. Dads with NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) experience would be great, any Dads with kids who have a neurodiversity condition and generally the stories of other people’s experience are excellent in any way.

Thank you Kieran. For more information about getting involved with Dad Matters you can visit their website by clicking here.