A new report about successful peer support for neonatal fathers has been published in the Journal of Neonatal Nursing. A fathers’ group was organised at the NICU at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, UK. 40 fathers in total attended groups during 2018, with an average of 4 fathers at each meeting. Meetings took place on the unit twice a month, once at lunchtime and once early evening. The groups were facilitated by the NICU clinical psychologist (female) and the hospital chaplain (male).
Promotion of the group was led by the NICU clinical psychologist, who directly invited fathers to attend, backed up with posters and leaflets.
The initiative to create the group came from the report of one father who recounted to the NICU clinical psychologist how “forgotten” and “left out” fathers can sometimes be compared to mothers while on NICU. This is the account of the partner of this father:
I spent every day with George [our baby]. After paternity leave, Ash [George’s father] spent four days away from him while he was at work. In this time, I sent him photos and videos to ensure Ash carried on bonding with his son. This was when Ash voiced his opinions about the support that fathers have when their child/children are in hospital. Mothers have several groups that they can attend. At that time, Ash was attending those groups with me. I have since found out that Ash’s input has helped a father’s group to be set up within the NICU. Ash passed away in March last year, so he never got to know of the impact that he had on the group. I know he would be happy and pleased that he can now help fathers that need the support of the group.
Fathers were asked to complete custom designed self-report questionnaires after the group meetings in order to ascertain feedback about their group experience. A number of themes were evident in the responses.
- The pressure of having to be “the strong one” or “the one who holds everything together”, with responsibilities to earn, care for older children, look after the home and be on the NICU.
- Feelings of helplessness and trauma. Some fathers described feelings of guilt at having to decide to be either with the mother or with the baby in a different place.
- An appreciation of the solidarity with other fathers:
Listening to other dads’ stories of their journey so far was reassuring. You are not alone.
I really enjoyed meeting other dads in the same situation as myself.
- Recognition of the father’s role.
It is good to be recognised as an important part of the family.
Fathers recommended that the group be continued:
I really enjoyed the group and hope that it continues, as it will benefit other fathers.
I think it is superb that this fathers’ group exists and I hope it continues.
The initiator of the project, the NICU clinical psychologist, Sarah-Jane Archibald, makes recommendations for how fathers’ groups can be organised on neonatal units.
- Recruitment is a key activity and requires time and effort. Involve all the staff, use posters and leaflets and allow plenty of time. Having designated staff members from NICU to help drive recruitment. Group facilitation is recommended.
- Offer the group as frequently as possible, to normalise it and maximise attendance.
- Offer groups at different times of the day. Lunchtime groups are good for fathers who have other children to look after that they may need to get home for.
- Offer a male facilitator for the groups.
- Offer refreshments at the meetings.
Archibald S (2019), What about fathers? A review of a fathers’ peer support group on a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Journal of Neonatal Nursing
Photo: ex.libris. Creative Commons.