You don't get an easy ride in the press if you're a teenage dad. And in some cases, the criticism is justified. Yet academic research shows that the education, behaviour and even health of kids with teenage parents improve significantly if the father has a relationship with his child.
The challenge facing the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) was how to reach this audience - teenage dads were hardly going to respond positively to another government-branded pamphlet.
The DCSF was already funding half a dozen telephone helplines, from ParentlinePlus to mental health support line Young Minds, all operated by third-sector agencies. But at an average cost of £32 per parent helped, the Department felt it wasn't getting best value for money. And demand exceeded the limited capacity it could afford.
Realising that helplines would never help a large num-ber of parents, including young fathers, the DCSF embarked on a 'Parent Know How' initiative that aimed to support a million parents a year by 2010-11 - a massive increase on the 90,000 reached under existing arrangements - while reducing the cost per parent helped.
It turned for help to Digital Public, which developed an innovation-fund approach to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the third-party specialists. Designed to improve use of digital media in particular, the fund boosted capacity by, for example, enabling helplines to direct some callers to online information, and get closer to the target audiences. Those teenage dads, for example, are less likely to use the telephone for support than to look online or to use their mobile phones to access information.
With the intention of using the Parent Know How funding as a catalyst for private-sector companies to work with the third-party specialists, Digital Public organised a programme of big industry events - some hosted by government ministers - and forums for exchanging knowledge and best practice. They were, in effect, devising a marketplace for innovation in the sector.
Through the innovation fund, parents can now receive support from 11 new services. These include Live Talk - an online instant messaging service for parents, particularly fathers, who need relationship support, provided by Relate; Dad's Space 121, an online area that helps fathers stay in contact with their children; and Contact a Family Online - support for parents or carers of children with disabilities that includes a counselling service in virtual world Second Life.
Digital Public also proposed a virtual parenting magazine, offering information and advice on specific topics, but designed to suit younger lifestyles and reading habits, without appearing preachy or condescending.
Finally, DCSF asked Digital Public to come up with a service that younger parents could feel was their own. The result was iParent - a range of online 'widgets' that work across various platforms, from PCs and mobile phones to interactive TV. The widgets draw on live data and are personalised to the user's interests or needs - eg, regular health tips or suggestions for football training for children.
To date, more than 11 million people have been reached by the programme - more than 10 times the original target, and costs per interaction have fallen dramatically.
'Digital Public has been central to the success of Parent Know How, because of the strong alignment between its approach and our vision for the programme,' says Julia Gault, deputy director of the DCSF's families unit.
For the DCSF, funding helplines was proving an inadequate way of delivering support to struggling parents. It commissioned Digital Public to run its 'Parent Know How' initiative. The consultancy set about opening up mobile and internet channels - much more likely to be used by target 'clients' - and arranged innovation forums to draw in specialist private enterprise. Now, 11 new services are in place to offer advice and to help young dads stay in touch with their children. The scheme has exceeded its target 10 times over, reaching 11 million people at a much-reduced cost per interaction.
- Harness the expertise of all stakeholders;
- Spark creativity by creating marketplaces for innovation;
- Win respect and trust through accurate, evidence-based advice.