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Queen's University Belfast leads first ever future fatherhood programme in prisons

Mark Keelan Nursing

A team from Queen’s University Belfast (Prof Maria Lohan, Dr Michelle Templeton, Dr Carmel Kelly and David Grant), alongside colleagues from the Universities of Glasgow (Dr Katie Buston) and Stirling (Professor Kate Hunt), and partners Barnardo’s and the Northern Ireland and Scottish Prison Services, will develop the first ever Relationships and Future Fatherhood programme for young incarcerated men, which will have preparation for fatherhood as a key focus.The aim of the programme is to help young men in custody have healthy respectful relationships, and will cover sexual health, relationships and hopes and intentions for future parenthood. This project is funded by the Medical Research Council, UK.

Professor Maria Lohan, from the School of Nursing and Midwifery and the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation at Queen’s University Belfast who is leading the project said, “When we went into the prison to talk to the young men about sexual health and avoiding an unintended pregnancy, we were struck by how much they wanted to be fathers and wanted to be good fathers. The motivation also comes from the prison management and prison staff in Northern Ireland and Scotland who are trailblazing in front of us new paths to transform prison sites into sites of rehabilitation”. 

Dr Michelle Templeton, principal researcher who was key to working up this project and is passionate about inclusion, said, “There’s an art and science to this project. The art is developing a programme that will capture and hold young men’s attention. The science is developing a programme which can achieve outcomes of better relationships leading to better health for the men, their partners and future children”.

Deirdre Sloan, Manager of Barnardo’s NI Parenting Matters Service, and Lisa Hogg, Service Manager of Barnardo’s Scotland prison based services, both agree that the social innovation with the programme is the fact it is an early intervention reaching out to men before they become fathers, while also enhancing programmes for men who are already fathers in prisons.

Welcoming the initiative, Gary Milling, Governor at Hydebank Wood College, said “These walls only work if you are willing to see beyond them. Relationships are key to rehabilitation and we recognise that aspiring to be a good father and a good partner in life can be the hook to help young men turn their lives around”.

Welcoming the initiative also at Polmont, Governor Brenda Stewart says, “Offering relationship and sexuality education to men in prisons is truly novel and it makes perfect sense. Many of our young men will have missed those educational opportunities in schools. When they return to their communities we want them to step forward and build positive relationships”.

George Ferguson, Head of Offender Outcomes at Polmont, said “We want to build on their desires and to better understand the difference 'good fathering' can make to their future”.

Stevie Mann, Head of Student Development Unit at Hydebank Wood College, said, “Many of our guys have often dropped out of school so motivation to learn and programmes they can relate to is key to making a difference in their lives. By involving the young men from the start in developing the programme, I’m sure Queen’s, their Sottish partners and Barnardo’s will achieve that”.



Prof Maria Lohan;

Dr Michelle Templeton