As I gather with my family to celebrate Fathers' Day this Sunday, I will do so with a renewed appreciation of the importance of my role as a dad following my first six weeks as the Chief Executive of the UK's largest children's charity.
Over the last couple of months I have been immersed in the breadth of work Barnardo's carries out to help vulnerable young people, and each conversation has brought home to me the huge difference that we as fathers can make to our children's lives.
I believe that voluntary organisations like Barnardo's can have a unique role in stepping in and offering support to fathers to become the best parents they can for their children.
One of the first things I did on arriving at Barnardo's was to launch the 'five to thrive' programme across each and every one of our early years services. This approach helps parents by giving them some practical ways to engage with their children, like reading, playing, speaking, helping them learn and grow. This can be especially useful for those fathers who didn't have the most stable start in life themselves and who may not have a father who read to them or played with them.
Even when parents are simply unable to look after their own sons and daughters themselves, foster fathers can help to heal and hold those children they provide care for. Going around the country and meeting the families we work with, I have seen the affection and trust they have for their foster parents and the unmistakable bond of love they have formed. I've seen foster dads glow with pride as they watch their child interacting with others and hear them confidently speak about their family and loved ones.
There are more than 83,000 children in care in our country. Sadly these vulnerable children and young people are more likely to leave school with fewer qualifications, be at higher risk of offending, become a teenage parent and not be in education, employment or training. Who needs a father figure more than these children?
Then there are also an estimated 200,000 children in the UK who are separated from their parent because they've committed a crime and been sent to prison- more often than not their father. From the moment of arrest, these children can face immense social and emotional trauma, including isolation, poverty and family breakdown. It is a shocking fact that 65 per cent of boys with a father in prison will go on to offend themselves.
But it doesn't have to end how it began.
One of the most inspirational experiences I had recently took place in the most unlikely place. During my recent visit to Parc Prison in Wales I met fathers inside who talked with feeling and understanding about what they had learnt and gained through their participation in the project that Barnardo's runs there. They spoke with a real appreciation of how their children are innocent victims and that they should not be serving a sentence too.
As a dad myself, the thought of any children being afraid, being hurt or having no one to turn to breaks my heart. I know that is also how many of the men who support Barnardo's by working for us, volunteering with us, or raising funds on our behalf feel too. So this father's day, help Barnardo's give the most vulnerable the support you give your own children.Suggest a correction