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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 September, 2004, 08:49 GMT 09:49 UK
Young father's parental mission
By Catherine Cashmore
BBC News Online, Derby

Richie and Hayley
Richie wants to help other young men with parenting
Like most teenage boys Richie Walton enjoys playing computer games, watching DVDs and working on his car.

But while his friends spend their time thinking about getting the latest trainers, he is worrying about teething, nappies and getting a good night's sleep.

Richie, 17, from Derby is the father to eight-month-old Hayley, and a householder and partner to girlfriend Michelle Poole, 18.

He is now trying to set up a self-help group called Fathers in Your Hood to try to offer support and help to other young men in a similar position.

Young fathers like Richie are open to criticism and often receive little support or encouragement to get involved with their children.

The UK has the highest number of teenage parents in Europe.

In 2001 there were nearly 41,000 conceptions to under 18s and in Derby alone nearly 208 teenagers became parents.

Richie said the whole family was upset when Michelle found out she was expecting.

You feel sorry for the little kids, seeing them pushed away
Richie, teenage father

"My dad was quite shocked and said 'you have got your whole life ahead of you'.

"I said 'I'll get through it no matter how long it takes me'."

Michelle, 17 at the time, had to leave her family home, and the couple had to live in a bed and breakfast for a month, putting a strain on them - and Michelle's savings from her part-time job at McDonalds.

Through his own experiences, Richie understands the pressures young men are under and the assumptions made by others who hear about their situation.

He said: "You feel sorry for the little kids, seeing them pushed away (by their fathers).

"If they watched their kids then they'd see how they'd improved and grown up.

"I was shocked at first but after a bit I thought 'cool'.

"I love her to bits, I wouldn't change anything."
Richie and Hayley featured on a poster
Barnardo's says young men can offer something special

Fathers in Your Hood is based at the Barnardo's Community House in Osmaston, which helped Richie and Michelle get on their feet.

The Osmaston area of Derby is a straddle of streets with homes built for workers drawn to the nearby Rolls Royce plant.

It is a rundown community with 12 pubs but no youth centres and only one sports centre.

Barnardo's project worker Gabinder Manku said: "We need to have more positive role models which is why we're working with fathers.

"I know men who won't do anything.

"You get men, and it's all about an ego, they know this and that, but when you get them talking about themselves then there are huge issues.

"We're talking about breaking a stigma, that you get a child and you get a house."

Richie, with the support of Barnardo's, wants to change that.

Positive role models

He and his friends have recently completed a 40-mile sponsored cycle ride through the Peak District, raising 200 to help fund activities, like a day out for fathers with their young ones.

He wants to raise awareness that there are places where fathers can go to spend time with their children, even if they are no longer in a relationship with their mother.

The community house in conjunction with the government scheme, Sure Start, originally focused on women and their children, but now Richie and Mr Manku want to change that.

According to Barnardo's, there is a general acceptance that a young woman becoming a lone parent is somehow inevitable.

Richie and Young Fathers in Your Hood hope to challenge that assumption.

Meanwhile, Richie is hard at work installing a body kit on his Ford Fiesta and putting a baby seat in the back.

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