At the end of May, a new Guide Dogs Dads' Group launched, providing an online peer-to-peer support platform for 30 dads with a child living with sight loss. This nine-month pilot scheme has been possible thanks to the support and funding from National Lottery players through the National Lottery Community Fund.
The idea stemmed from conversations with 45 dads at focus groups held at Guide Dogs family events. Many dads reported feeling helpless, isolated and alone. They felt left to the sidelines as the mum was usually at the forefront of discussions with professionals about their child, which affected their mental wellbeing. These findings were consistent with other studies and surveys that considered the impact of having a child with a disability or an incurable condition. For example, While et al. (1996)* reported that 64.5% of fathers that had a child affected by an incurable condition experienced an impact on their mental health. Griffin (2019)** found that parents of a disabled child reported an impact on many aspects of life including emotional factors such as feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and helplessness, plus struggles with leisure, work, family life and their own health.
Phil, the father of Teddy, explained his experience following the early diagnosis of his son’s sight loss condition;
“After the diagnosis, I felt really alone and low. When someone tells you your child is never going to see as well as other children, you don’t know what that world is going to be like. I found it overwhelming. I didn’t know what Teddy’s future would look like or how I needed to help him.”
The support group initiative was developed through collaboration with a steering group of eight dads. The programme addresses the group's personal experiences, knowledge gaps and emotional support needs. It incorporates six two-hour online sessions and workshops with guest speakers from the sight loss and mental wellbeing sector, a social media platform where dads can connect, plus a face-to-face team-building activity day.
The Guide Dogs Dads' Group aims to build relationships between dads within the sight loss community where they can share experiences and gain practical and emotional support within an open and understanding environment. They’ll be equipped with knowledge about their child’s sight loss and provided with resources and skills to help them meet their full potential as a carer to their child and as a supportive member of the family unit.
Wendy Sainsbury, National Family Support Manager at Guide Dogs said:
“We’re really excited to launch this pilot support group thanks to the funding we’ve received from players of the National Lottery. We’ve learned through the focus groups that there is an important opportunity for us to inform, support and empower dads so that they can play a more proactive part in helping their child and family as a whole. We also hope that by connecting dads through this service, we can build an ongoing support network for them and others as their child grows and develops.”
Guide Dogs will capture feedback and outcomes data from the dads involved in this pilot project. If proven successful, the initiative will be developed into an ongoing National service within the Guide Dogs services portfolio to ensure that more dads can access the knowledge and assistance needed to support their child and family.
*While A et al (1996) A Study of the Needs and Provisions for Families Caring for Children With Life-Limiting Incurable Disorders. King’s College, London.
**Griffin, J. (2019) ‘A report into the Emotional impact of parenting a disabled child’, March 2019, Researchgate, DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.15565.08169