Edinburgh Napier University has been awarded £320,000 to carry out the first study of the Parents under Pressure (PuP) programme to focus on fathers and their care of young children.
Around 350,000 children in the UK live with a parent who has a serious drug problem, and they are often the victims of abuse and neglect.
The PuP programme, which involves working with drug-using parents through home visits, has been shown to reduce drug use and improve parenting and child wellbeing.
However, research has focused on drug-using mothers, and there is doubt over whether fathers with a history of addiction will engage with the programme and workbook-based tasks and exercises.
The two-year Edinburgh-based study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (UK), aims to determine if ’PuP4Dads’ is acceptable and helpful to drug addict dads and their families, and whether it can be successfully delivered by existing social work or charitable agencies.
In this study, PrePare, a social work-led service, and Circle, a family support agency, will deliver the programme to 24 families with a drug-using father with at least one pre-school aged child.
Over a period of six months, specially-trained practitioners will take the families through a series of 12 modules such as ‘connecting with your child’, ‘managing substance use’, ‘mindful child management’ and ‘managing under pressure’.
Progress through the modules – many of which focus on improving the parents’ emotional state and fostering a positive parent-child relationship - is documented in a ‘parent workbook’.
Australian-based Professor Sharon Dawe and Dr Paul Harnett have been working on the development of the Parents under Pressure model for more than a decade. Tests have now taken place in several UK cities with a view to adopting the programme here.
They said: “The programme starts with the assumption parents want to do the right thing for their children, but there are many things in life that make this difficult, and these things will be different in each family. So we aim to be non-judgmental and flexible, which seems to be successful.”
A drug-using mother who has participated in the programme said: “The PuP programme helps you sit down and focus on the different aspects of your life and how you cope as a parent.”
Men on methadone treatment programmes will be referred to the programme on a voluntary basis. Agencies supporting problem families often focus on the mother and exclude the father, but researchers believe that if dads participate actively along with their partners for the duration of the programme, it will have a positive impact on their children’s lives and the wellbeing of the family as a whole, as well as their own ability to manage their addiction.
Chief investigator Dr Anne Whittaker, of Edinburgh Napier’s School of Health & Social Care, said: “Contrary to popular belief, research shows that many drug-using men want to be good dads and are often more involved and committed to their children than people think. For example, our own research has shown that dads on methadone can be surprisingly emotional about their relationship with their children and try their best to lessen the impact of drug addiction on the family.
“However, many fathers find this quite difficult to achieve, not least because they are often ignored or treated as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Given the right support, we believe fathers could benefit from this parenting intervention as much as drug-using mothers do, and this research aims to find out if this is possible.
“Our long-term goal is to find better ways of helping the most disadvantaged families in our society and we think that involving drug-using fathers as a parent in their own right, along with mothers and children, is an essential next step in the global programme of research on this topic.”
If the Edinburgh study – which launched in April and is due to be completed in March 2019 – yields positive results, the next step would be to carry out a large-scale evaluation of the programme with dads.