Web-based mentoring program to help Aboriginal fathers

The University of Newcastle (UON) is partnering with the Young and Well Co-operative Research Centre in a project supporting young Aboriginal fathers.

‘Stayin’ on Track’ is designed to transition young Aboriginal men to fatherhood through a user-developed website. It will also use smartphone app Mood Tracker.

Pioneer researcher in men’s health, Dr Richard Fletcher from the UON’s Family Action Centre, is co-ordinating the program.

Craig Hammond and Charlie Faulkner will act as mentors to the young Aboriginal men from Newcastle, Tamworth and Moree.

“The issues for young Aboriginal men becoming fathers are well known … the risks for substance abuse and relationship breakdown,” Dr Fletcher said. “And the difficulties they may face in having enough resources. What isn’t well known is how to address it.

“Nobody has asked young Aboriginal dads which websites are useful. This project is unique in using the young Aboriginal fathers themselves to build a website. Nobody has used Mood Tracker with young Aboriginal men. We know they use mobile phones.”

Young and Well CRC CEO, Associate Professor Jane Burns, said there was a real potential for technology to play a part in assisting young Aboriginal dads to access the support they need in an engaging and culturally appropriate way. “I’m delighted to see this project launch today,” Professor Burns said.

The project is supported by researchers in rural health, fathering, psychiatry and indigenous health. Award-winning filmmaker Gavin Banks will create brief accounts of the young fathers’ stories that will hopefully engage others. The young Aboriginal men will be able to see other young dads telling their stories. “They’ll be talking about how they found out, how the birth went,” Dr Fletcher said. “This is a way to make the experience real for a young Aboriginal dad.”

This project is also modelling the importance of mentors. Charlie Faulkner is chair of the board of the Awabakal Co-operative and he and Craig Hammond are well known as football coaches. “Charlie is also a senior counsellor and that’s important for this project,” said Dr Fletcher.

“Mood tracker will SMS on a regular basis. If one of the young dads responds that things are not so good, one of the mentors will ring them immediately. “With Craig and Charlie, we are tapping into the strength of indigenous culture. The two mentors have shaped this project. They lead and I take my direction from them.”

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