Dads Rock

– in the Scottish Parliament on 7th May 2013.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-05783, in the name of Gordon MacDonald, on Dads Rock’s first anniversary. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates Dads Rock on its first anniversary; understands that it is Scotland’s only free musical playgroup for dads and their kids; believes that it provides a fun, positive environment for men to play with their children and to speak to other dads; understands that two groups have been established, at Sighthill and Granton in Edinburgh, since it started in February 2012; notes its expansion plans for 2013, which include starting a group in Fife and establishing a Dads Rock academy, which will aim to provide one year of free music tuition to children and dads in the Sighthill area; notes the endeavours of the unpaid volunteers, and wishes them well.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

I declare an interest in Dads Rock, as an unpaid trustee of that new Scottish charity, which is based here in Edinburgh and was started in my constituency. I thank the 40 MSPs who have supported the motion, given it cross-party support and allowed the debate to take place.

Dads Rock began as an idea back in October 2011 when David Marshall and Thomas Lynch, who have young children of their own, realised how little there was locally to allow dads some one-to-one time with their young children. Rather than just moan about the lack of provision, they decided that they would combine David’s interest in music with Thomas’s experience as a postnatal depression counsellor and create a support service that is a fun, positive and rocking playgroup for dads and their kids. David Marshall, one of the founders of Dads Rock, and some of the fathers who attend the playgroup are in the public gallery.

David and Thomas launched the first group on 11 February 2012, thanks to a £3,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund. Gate 55, in the Sighthill area of my constituency, provided space to hold the weekly group on Saturday mornings. Every week, about 30 dads and their kids under five attend, with nearly a third of those fathers being new Scots from Poland. Dads Rock provides a range of activities for children under the age of five, including play time, painting and drawing, snack time, story time and music.

Music is very important to David and Thomas, hence the name Dads Rock. They sing traditional playgroup songs and end with the Queen classic “We Will Rock You”, where dads sing the words and their kids play along with every conceivable toy musical instrument, including a mini drum kit, and it ends in a crescendo of noise, as any good rock concert should.

It soon became apparent that dads and their kids were travelling from across Edinburgh to attend the Sighthill group, so the second playgroup was launched by the Minister for Children and Young People, Aileen Campbell, on 27 October 2012 in the Granton area of Edinburgh, thanks again to a grant from the Big Lottery Fund. That group also runs on a Saturday morning and on average has around 20 dads coming along each week.

However, Dads Rock is not just a playgroup. It is also a place for dads to go to speak to other fathers about being a dad. That peer support is just as important as the provision of a safe and comfortable place where fathers can play with their children. Nobody gives fathers a manual on how to raise children, and everyone wants to do the best for their kids. Many fathers worry about the extra pressure that comes from having children, whether it is through financial pressure, increased responsibilities or just a lack of sleep, so there is a need for somewhere fathers can discuss family-related issues.

Then, there are the fathers who are separated or divorced and who struggle to maintain contact with their children. The welfare reform changes that have been introduced by the United Kingdom Government are making a bad situation worse; fathers who are in receipt of housing benefit are losing up to 25 per cent of that benefit as a result of the bedroom tax changes, even if they have overnight contact with their children. It cannot be right that children no longer have a bedroom in their parent’s home as a result of fathers being forced to downsize.

There is also the attitude of some social workers, health visitors, nursery staff and primary teachers, who appear to have an implicit prejudice against fathers in relation to their ability to care for their children. If we are serious about getting it right for every child, we must change how some of the individuals who are involved in statutory services think of the role of fathers, and make sure that they begin to treat fathers as equals in their role as carers.

Dads Rock is not just about providing a support mechanism. Thomas Lynch said to me:

“We all just want to give our children the best, to ensure they feel loved and cared for, be able to play with them and have some one-to-one time which are both vital to their development. Children can get so much from their dads, and I know from personal experience that we can get so much from being with them and looking at the world through their eyes.”

In their first year, David and Thomas established the first playgroup in Sighthill six months after coming up with the concept. They expanded 6 months later to the Granton area and obtained charity status on 21 March this year, 13 months after opening. Gate 55 has now proved to be too small and earlier this year the original group moved to larger premises at Whale Arts Agency.

Despite creating and growing a new charity, there is no rest for the founders, David and Thomas. The interest from dads, the media and the general public in Dads Rock has been so great that they will soon launch the third playgroup, in Dunfermline. In conjunction with Fife Gingerbread they have secured funding for a male playgroup facilitator, the charity’s first employee, and he is to be tasked with scouring Dunfermline for the ideal venue. They have also had enquiries from the Glasgow area and are investigating the possibility of another playgroup under the Dads Rock banner.

David and Thomas have so much commitment to and enthusiasm for Dads Rock that they are already thinking about how they can expand their musical playgroup to fathers who have children older than the under-five age group. Dads Rock academy, in association with Edinburgh College, will be starting in October for older children at the Sighthill campus. That innovative project will again be the only one of its kind, offering free music tuition and a free musical instrument to local kids and dads. David said to me before the debate:

“We know that kids get so much from music. It helps to build their confidence and can give better outcomes for them, so it makes sense to continue the musical theme, have some fun, support dads and carry on rocking.”

In 2014 they aim to take Dads Rock to prison, because approximately 50 per cent of dads who go to prison lose contact with their families. They want to change that. Young teenage dads are another group that need support, so David and Thomas are investigating whether there is a way that Dads Rock can help to support them in a school setting.

The past year has been one of fantastic achievement for the new charity, thanks to the drive of the two founders, David Marshall and Thomas Lynch. They believe that every part of Scotland needs Dads Rock. I am sure that they will keep on rocking until that is achieved.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I congratulate Gordon MacDonald on introducing this debate and welcome the representatives of Dads Rock to the gallery.

As Gordon MacDonald has already told us, Dads Rock is the brainchild of Thomas Lynch and David Marshall, who are fathers. While bringing up their young children in Sighthill, they noticed how little there was by way of resources that were tailored specifically towards fathers. Their first playgroup, which was started just over a year ago, in 2012, sought to rectify that situation. Over the past year, they have opened a second playgroup for fathers in Granton, and planning is under way for a third facility in Fife to be run in conjunction with Fife Gingerbread. I was pleased to mention that in the recent debate on Fife Gingerbread; the minister talked about it then as well, of course.

I should remind people that Granton is in my constituency. I regret that Dads Rock meets on Saturday mornings, because that coincides exactly with my weekly surgeries. I have therefore been unable to attend its meetings. However, who knows? If it met at another time, I might even bring along one of my grandchildren, if that was allowed.

After a little research into the relatively short history of Dads Rock, it is very easy to find positive testimonies from mothers as well as fathers. I want to quote two mothers. One said:

“my partner and daughter just returned from Dad’s rock—and had a ball. I think my daughter was a bit overwhelmed at first being her first time with daddy in a new place, but he said she got right into it in the end, and everyone had fun. Thanks so much dad’s rock!”

The other mother said:

“My son absolutely loves this group especially playing the drums and rocking out with his friends on the guitars! And its great that he gets some 1-2-1 time with his Dad while I get 2 hours to myself!”

It is clear that the main advantage is to the children and fathers, but it is also a great advantage to mothers. It is in the interests of mothers and, indeed, women in general that fathers get more involved in childcare. I am sure that we all support that objective, which is exactly the objective that Dads Rock is trying to promote.

The ambition of the two enterprising fathers has not slowed over the past year. The children enjoy regular visits into the community—for example, a trip was recently organised to the national museum of Scotland, where a group of 30 children and 25 fathers enjoyed making masks, telling stories and taking part in a raucous song time.

As Gordon MacDonald told us, music and creativity feature highly in the priorities of Dads Rock. Music is one way of improving emotional development and the intellect. The organisation has indicated that it will launch a scheme in October this year that will ensure free tuition for children and fathers through a new Dads Rock academy that is to be based at the Edinburgh College Sighthill campus. Many children go through their school years without access to one-to-one tuition, so such a facility could help to spark their interest in taking up an instrument and gaining a lifelong skill. As Thomas and David stated in their recent blog post:

“The benefits of Kids learning music are well known, it improves social skills, increases confidence, helps them to focus, helps the brain to develop”.

What better way to do that than in an encouraging academic environment, with the children’s fathers on hand to take part and cheer on their successes?

The academy will offer free weekly music tuition to local children aged five to 16 years, and it will be open to kids and dads from Edinburgh and the surrounding area. It will offer places to roughly 10 to 15 children and their fathers, and will offer a free musical instrument as well as weekly tuition. The college will provide the facilities and the tutors will come from its student body, which will benefit then students who are studying music in further education. Participation in the academy will become part of the curriculum and will add another dimension to the students’ CVs. Best of all, at the end of term in June, the students will stage a show for families and friends, which will allow them to showcase the skills that they have learned and provide an opportunity for them to receive the praise and encouragement that they need to keep going.

My time is now up. The amazing amount that the two fathers and the wider group have achieved in less than two years is clear to everyone. I wish them well in all the ventures that they undertake, congratulate them on what they have done, and repeat my congratulations to Gordon MacDonald.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

I congratulate Gordon MacDonald on lodging a motion in recognition of the first anniversary of Dads Rock.

Dads Rock was started in Sighthill in Edinburgh in February 2012, and it offers free weekly sessions for fathers and their children that allow them to spend quality time together interacting and enjoying themselves. Despite being only a year old, the project is going from strength to strength and is continuing to gather momentum. That is evident in that a second group has been started in Edinburgh and in the plans for the project to expand into Fife.

Dads Rock was the brainchild of Thomas Lynch and David Marshall. It came about from discussions between them about how few services were available in Edinburgh for fathers and their children. The group promotes positive measures that allow fathers to create stronger bonds with their children through play and other activities. It helps them to add new dimensions to their role, especially when they are often unable to be with their children every day. Unfortunately, many fathers in Scotland miss out on spending quality time with their children, which research has shown often has a detrimental effect—to varying degrees—on a child’s development.

It is for that reason that I welcome the Dads Rock project that will, it is hoped, be up and running in Fife in May 2013. The project will be based in Dunfermline, in an area that features quite high in the Scottish index of multiple deprivation, where dads in particular can find themselves socially isolated. They face difficulty in engaging in the array of activities that are currently on offer to parents that are mainly—unintentionally—female dominated and driven. Dads are underrepresented in many family activities as agencies are often unable to cater for and adapt to the needs of fathers and their children.

Fife Gingerbread, which has been established for 25 years and supports communities and families across Fife, will, in partnership with Dads Rock, model a project that has already been established in Edinburgh. It will be funded by the Big Lottery Fund and the Carnegie Trust, and it will be part of getting it right for every child and have links to the early years strategy group, which is a multi-agency partnership.

The funding that is received from others and raised by Dads Rock itself also helps it to provide a variety of shared activities and experiences for fathers and children. Those range from visits to museums, days out, parties, playgroups, and the music academy. Music plays an important part in the organisation, which is evidenced by the playgroups’ songs at the end of their meetings, and the concluding song, “We Will Rock You” by Queen. It is also evidenced by the Dads Rock academy logo, which has the guitar at its centre.

As a father, I appreciate the importance of music in helping to bond with children. When my son was young, I played guitar to him when he was having a bath. He must have enjoyed it because as he grew older, he took up the guitar himself. At 22, he is quite accomplished on the guitar, having surpassed his father. We still spend many evenings together playing our guitars and enjoying each other’s company. Having found that out, Rhona from Fife Gingerbread has invited me to play at some of the groups, so I am looking forward to doing that.

I take this opportunity to congratulate Dads Rock, Thomas Lynch and David Marshall and the many volunteers who are involved on initiating and developing such a successful project. I hope that its success will be recognised in many other areas throughout Scotland and that, where it is needed, it will be taken on board by them. If it is, it will provide dads with greater access and chance to become more involved in the wide variety of activities and meetings that are offered by Dads Rock. Ultimately, that will help to improve the wellbeing of fathers and their children by giving them more opportunities for interaction with their peers, and it should help them to form deeper and more meaningful relationships with their children.

Dads Rock is best summed up by the acronym that is used by David Marshall and Thomas Lynch—FPR, or fun, positive, rocking.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

I am happy to speak on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives in tonight’s debate. I congratulate Gordon MacDonald on lodging the motion, which I was happy to sign, and on securing the debate, which is a good one to have this evening. I also congratulate Dads Rock on what it has achieved in a short space of time. I congratulate the founders who set up the organisation and drove it forward, the volunteers who help events to happen regularly and, of course, the dads and kids who go along every week and make up Dads Rock.

As we heard from previous speakers, the organisation achieved an amazing amount in setting up the first free musical playgroup for dads, then setting up the second one, which the minister opened; it now has plans for a third group and more. All that was being done while a fun and positive environment was being created. Most remarkable is that it has all been achieved in such a short space of time. If the first group went live in February last year, that means that everything has been achieved in a mere 15 months or so, and I suspect that much more is to come.

I was interested to hear Gordon MacDonald talk about how Dads Rock started. How many conversations have there been elsewhere in the country in which people have complained about something? Perhaps they even talked specifically about how little there was in Edinburgh for dads to do, but nothing came of it. As a result of David Marshall’s and Thomas Lynch’s specific skill set in music and experience as a post-natal depression counsellor, combined with their determination to drive the project forward, something unique and specific happened. Many people have had conversations about such ideas at various times, but very few have taken them forward. There are lessons for us all in what has happened with Dads Rock over a very short period.

Looking at Dads Rock’s blog and Facebook page, I was most struck by how proactive the organisation has been and continues to be. Several groups are operating already, with more on the way. I read an entry on the Facebook page about dads going out leafletting in Granton. Instead of waiting and hoping for people to show up, members of Dads Rock went out and put letters through mailboxes to encourage people to come along and to let them know that events were happening. Dads Rock has also been proactive with exhibitions here in the Scottish Parliament and elsewhere on at least one occasion, and in its involvement with Fathers Network Scotland among other groups. Its members seem extremely determined to take things forward.

I look forward to hearing the minister’s response to the debate. Does she propose to end this session with the chorus of “We Will Rock You” or something similar? I confess that I am struggling to get the image of Aileen Campbell playing the drums, as pictured on the Dads Rock Facebook page, out of my head.

This has been a very interesting and exciting 15 months for those involved in Dads Rock, but I rather suspect that the next 15 months will be even more interesting and exciting. I wish them all the very best for the next year and after that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We now rock on with Graeme Dey, to be followed by Alison Johnstone.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

I admit that, in swotting up on Dads Rock ahead of the debate, I had slight pangs of jealousy. I would not have minded being part of such an initiative when my children were younger. When my oldest was of pre-school age, my wife took her along to a mother and toddler group, the title of which indicated the extent to which fathers were welcome to participate. More recently—albeit 14 years ago—when my son started attending pre-school nursery, I recall feeling slightly uncomfortable when I took my turn at getting him there and prepared for the class, as there were not many other dads around. Back then, where we lived, there was nothing aimed at dads and kids or that offered the kind of organised activities for dads and their offspring that Dads Rock does.

I do not pretend to be an expert on how times might have changed generally in that regard, but a recent constituency engagement left me thinking that the answer is perhaps not as much as we would like. A few weeks ago, I attended a bookbug session at Arbroath library. The sessions are aimed at under-fives, with parents or carers invited to bring children along for songs, rhymes, puppets and movement. That was a toddlers class, admittedly, but out of the 20 or so children there, not one was accompanied by their father or even a grandfather. It is great to learn about an organisation such as Dads Rock, which exists to nurture the relationship between kids and dads—especially as the emphasis seems to be on a variety of activities. I give credit to my colleague Gordon MacDonald for securing this debate to highlight the organisation’s work.

What Dads Rock achieves is perhaps best summed up by a newspaper article, in which Filip Stephen, one of a number of Polish fathers who attends, spoke about what it provided for him and his three-year-old daughter Tessia:

“We bonded better than before. It has improved the daughter-father relationship … because I’m a working father it’s only us for a few hours.”

There are families in which the extent of the engagement between dads and their kids is very limited. In some cases, it is restricted to the children being brainwashed from a very early age into following the football team that their father supports and getting dragged along, week in, week out, for what some people might say amounts to an exercise in child cruelty. I sentenced my son to a lifetime of embarrassment and misery by raising him as an Aberdeen fan.

There is more to quality time between dads and their kids as they get older than going to the football, playing golf or going to the pictures, as the Dads Rock activity programme and the organisation’s ambitions demonstrate. I was interested to note that Dads Rock’s first outing of 2013 was to the national museum of Scotland. I have visited the museum with my kids, and we had a ball. Judging by the pics on the Dads Rock website, so did the 30 kids and 25 dads who took part. I have one question for the representatives of the organisation who are in the public gallery. Could someone explain what was behind one of the dads sporting a Red Indian chief’s headdress throughout the day? I know that the members of Dads Rock are into music but, as there was no sign of a motorcycle cop, a construction worker or a cowboy, I assume that the visit was not Village People themed.

Dads Rock appears to have had a pretty successful 2012, with 48 sessions delivered that, all told, were attended by 80 dads and 90 youngsters. The year culminated in a highly successful first ever Christmas party, which it seems even mums and grandparents were allowed to attend. The group seems to be going onwards and upwards, given that more than 150 dads are now involved and its recent first birthday celebrations were followed by the securing of charitable status. There are plans in the pipeline to expand the group not only into Fife next month but, further down the line, into the Strathclyde area.

For 2013, there will be visits to Edinburgh butterfly and insect world, the Scottish Seabird Centre and the BBC at the Edinburgh festival, but what really caught my eye was the plan to launch Dads Rock academy later this year. Gordon MacDonald referred to that. I understand that the academy will offer free weekly music tuition to kids—aged from five all the way up to 16—and their dads. That should be great fun, but I offer a word of warning to the dads. Six years or so ago, I thought that it would be a blast to join my son in learning to play electric guitar, but I quickly discovered that he had a natural aptitude that he had not inherited from me. I also discovered that teenagers lack any kind of tact or diplomacy in handling situations where they should let their parents down gently.

Once again, I congratulate Gordon MacDonald on securing the debate and I wish Dads Rock every success in its future endeavours.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I congratulate Gordon MacDonald on securing today’s debate and on enabling us to celebrate the notable achievements of Dads Rock, a charity that provides an ever-flourishing support and a lively social scene for fathers and their children. The brainchild of two Edinburgh dads—Thomas Lynch and David Marshall—Dads Rock was an inspired and innovative response to the view that there was not much in Edinburgh specifically for dads and their children.

Thinking back to my time on the mother and toddler circuit, I found that to be a supportive experience. The circuit gave structure to the day and enabled mums and children alike to make friendships that have lasted to this day. I say “mother” and “mums” because I cannot recall ever bumping into a dad there, although I should say that he would have been made very welcome indeed.

As often happens, the people on the ground who have experienced the lack of a necessary and important service have taken action to address the problem. Based in Sighthill, Dads Rock has now expanded into Granton and, as we have heard, is working on setting up a base in Fife. For an organisation that has celebrated only one birthday, that is truly impressive.

We know that such groups provide a lifeline for many parents. In bringing together stay-at-home parents and those who have gone back to work, Dads Rock brings together people who might never bump into one another in their normal day-to-day routine. The chance to share experiences of parenthood and to compare notes is just as invaluable for fathers as it is for mothers.

At the local toddler groups that I attended, I met many women who remain firm friends to this day. When one of us—not me, I should point out—had finally had that first full night’s sleep, we listened with awe to how that wonderful achievement had been arrived at. The point is that it is great to learn from people who are experiencing what we are experiencing. It is important that we make that possible for all the dads in the community, too.

When I looked online prior to today’s debate to see what access dads have to such clubs, I found that I was more likely to read postings such as “My partner’s finding it tough as he doesn’t know any other stay-at-home dads” or “Some dads go to ‘normal’ toddler groups.” Such comments really highlight the need for a group such as Dads Rock. Many men feel uncomfortable at the thought of attending what are still too often regarded as mother and toddler groups. In time, that will no doubt change, given that The Daily Telegraph reported in January that the number of stay-at-home fathers reached a record high last year. It is important that we ensure that dads have access to groups in which they feel comfortable and welcome.

Dads Rock notably provides opportunities at the weekend that give dads and their children the flexibility to do something different with their children when they are not in school. As we have heard, Dads Rock academy will provide local children with free music tuition. The well-documented merits of music tuition have been debated at length in the Parliament, but the Dads Rock version will involve dad learning an instrument, too. That is a fantastic example of lifelong learning.

As Graeme Dey touched on, Dads Rock’s first visit of the year saw a great gathering of dads and children head to the national museum.

As the membership of Dads Rock is increasing all the time, I have absolutely no doubt that the organisation will go from strength to strength. In these challenging times, the opportunities that Dads Rock provides are vital for dads and their children. No matter what their circumstances, Dads Rock gives them a place to go, relax and play, and just to be together. Dads Rock’s social media savvy shows how skilled it is at engaging with the wider community. I believe that we will hear a great deal more about this wonderful project, which is a model of real community empowerment.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

I thank Gordon MacDonald for bringing this positive debate to the chamber. Like other members, I congratulate Dads Rock and pay tribute to all that it has achieved in the past year. It is good to see the representatives of Dads Rock in the public gallery. I am pleased that, following a debate on the Dads Rock Twitter account, David Marshall has chosen to wear his Dads Rock T-shirt rather than the suit that he thought might be more appropriate. It is a good T-shirt.

Encouraging and supporting fathers to play an active role in their child’s upbringing is key if we are to improve the health, wellbeing and life chances of Scotland’s children and young people. Through the national parenting strategy, which we published in October, we are determined to ensure that parents get the support that they need when they need it, so that they can do their very best for their children.

The Scottish Government’s aspiration for children and young people is simple but ambitious: we want Scotland to be the best place in the world for children and young people to grow up in. We want Scotland to be a more child-friendly country and to have a culture that supports all parents and carers. We want a country that recognises that dads do indeed rock.

No parent should feel isolated or alone. Alison Johnstone rightly pointed out that families need to feel supported not only by public services but by their families and communities. Groups such as Dads Rock play a crucial role in offering fun activities for dads and their children, but they also provide a place for dads to speak to others about being a dad. That kind of local peer support is empowering and will benefit fathers and their children in many healthy and positive ways.

It is right for us to focus on fathers, because dads are often cut out of the picture, albeit sometimes unintentionally, and that needs to change. In a modern, successful Scotland, we want to encourage and support both parents to play an active role in their children’s upbringing. As Gordon MacDonald and Gavin Brown noted, with Dads Rock, two dads found that there was little support in their area and decided to do something about it, so they set up their own fun musical playgroup for dads and their children in Sighthill in Edinburgh. I admire and applaud their work and achievement, and the work of the volunteers who help to deliver the playgroups. Without their passion, many of the dads who attend would feel isolated. I agree with Gavin Brown that many lessons can be learned from the group’s proactive approach.

Last year, along with my husband and our wee boy, I had the pleasure of visiting Dads Rock when it opened its new musical group in Granton. My son enjoyed playing the drum kit and my husband, who is a stay-at-home dad, also enjoyed the experience and got a lot out of meeting other fathers. He liked singing in a key that he could reach at the end of the night, rather than some of the keys that he sings in at mother and toddler groups. I promise Gavin Brown that my speech will not feature me singing “We Will Rock You”, for which members should be thankful. Visiting Dads Rock was a great experience, and I hope that many more dads and their children will take part in and enjoy it. I thoroughly recommend it to Malcolm Chisholm and I encourage him to take his grandchildren along and prove that granddads can rock, too.

I am delighted to hear about the plans that Gordon MacDonald and Malcolm Chisholm outlined to open a new playgroup in Dunfermline and to hear that the group is looking to establish a Dads Rock academy that aims to provide a year’s free music tuition to children and dads in the Sighthill area.

The Government’s aspiration is to make this country the best place in the world to grow up in. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced in Parliament last month, is a step on the journey towards fulfilling our ambition. However, legislation is only part of the answer.

We know that the early years of a child’s life are crucial and set the pattern for their future development. We need to improve outcomes and reduce inequalities for all babies, children, mothers, fathers and families across Scotland to ensure that all children have the very best start in life and are ready to succeed. That is the ambition of our early years collaborative, which is a multi-agency local quality improvement programme that is delivered at a national scale and is taking forward the vision and priorities of the early years task force.

A second learning session will take place at the end of this month. It will provide an opportunity for teaching improvement methodology and for community planning partnerships to share learning. I am really pleased to hear about that work and I want to highlight it, because Dads Rock will speak at the learning session. That shows the high regard in which Government and our partners hold the organisation.

Last year, I launched the parenting strategy, which is an articulation of the importance of parenting that aims to strengthen the help and support that are on offer to parents. Dads Rock assisted with our engagement with parents in developing the strategy, and I thank it sincerely for that. Last year, we engaged with more than 1,500 parents and carers. About 500 of them were dads, and many of them told us that they feel that mums get offered support but dads are expected just to get on with things. Gordon MacDonald and David Torrance articulated some of those feelings.

Many of those dads referred to mother and toddler groups. That shows that, as Graeme Dey noted, even the turns of phrase that are used can often make dads feel unwelcome. As a working mum whose wee boy is cared for by her husband, I and my family are really careful to call the local groups baby and toddler groups.

The views that we received from all parents and carers were critical in shaping our national parenting strategy and really helped to identify the kind of commitments that we needed to include. We have now set up a fathers national advisory panel to help us to consider how our policies, services and communities can become much more dad friendly. I hope that that move will reassure David Torrance and Gordon MacDonald.

In September, the First Minister announced the early years task force commitment of £18 million over three years to improve the provision of family support throughout Scotland. The fathers national advisory panel will help to ensure that that family support also addresses fathers’ needs.

We recognise the range of important work that the third sector does to support families. That is why we are investing £20 million through the third sector early intervention fund plus directing an additional £10 million towards third sector strategic funding partnerships. I am delighted to say that Families Need Fathers Scotland and Fathers Network Scotland are two of the strategic funding partnerships that, along with the successful organisations that will receive funding through the third sector early intervention fund, will help us to improve the support for fathers throughout Scotland.

Investing in parents is good not only for children and young people but for our communities and for the cohesion and productivity of our country. Working hard to remove the barriers that prevent dads from playing their part can only be good for ensuring positive outcomes for our children and young people.

We have made a good start, which we are determined to build on, and we look forward to working with colleagues across the chamber, Dads Rock and other partners to help us to achieve that. I thank Gordon MacDonald for bringing the debate to the chamber and congratulate Dads Rock, the volunteers and all the other dads who take part. I wish them well and wish them every success for the future.

Meeting closed at 17:37.