Stayin’ on Track: A user-designed website for young Aboriginal fathers

Dr Richard Fletcher, Chief Investigator

Stayin’ on Track is a new online resource designed to engage and inform young Indigenous men from around Australia with an up-front, warts-and-all account of life before and after fatherhood.

“I would never have thought that I would’ve been a dad. But now that I am a dad, it’s the only thing that I want to do”.

The straight-out truthfulness of these young dads is powerful and compelling.  

Funded as a joint venture between the University of Newcastle and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, the project engaged young Aboriginal men as co-constructors of the website. The website includes three short films on the main stages of becoming a father for the first time, with links to parenting information and support.

The films titled Before the Birth, After the Birth and The Big Day were shot in Newcastle and Tamworth. The men speak of uncertainty and being scared of the unknown, the responsibility of a being a father to their own baby. The films offer a candid view into the minds of the new fathers as they share their experiences with respected Aboriginal mentors.

Not all of the men had their own fathers to look up to or to seek advice on parenting. One father speaks of the excitement of seeing his baby for the first time in an ultrasound image, but also of the sadness he feels about missing out on in the earlier stages of the pregnancy.

Having started life on the rough side, many fathers wanted to be “a better dad”. The arrival of the baby triggered a shift in their priorities:

“I was the type of person that would be out drinking and stuff all the time, and, yeah, and smoking and that… it was like a wakeup call.”

SMS4dads

The team behind Stayin’ on Track also worked on the follow-on project, SMS4dads, based on the ‘MoodTracker’ platform. For six weeks, the dads received SMS text messages with information and tips on infant care, supporting their partner and taking care of themselves. The project is designed to support their entry into fatherhood by offering practical advice and regular opportunities to seek help when it’s needed. Once a week an SMS4dads message asks, “How are you doing?” and gives the dads five optional replies to choose from. If the dad responds with, “I’m OK”, he will receive an encouraging text in reply. If he says he is “empty”, the system alerts one of the mentors and the dad will get a phone call.

The SMS4dads pilot research will be the first time that Aboriginal men have had their mood ‘tracked’ in this way. The results from the Stayin’ on Track website and SMS4dads may suggest how these dads, who generally avoid clinics and mental health checks, can be linked into services through something that they all carry – a mobile phone.

More information is available on the website: www.Stayinontrack.com  

Further reading and resources:

SMS4dads website www.sms4dads.com and promotional video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/HaWMZDHDmsM