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FATHERHOOD

Fathers matter in family life …

Male parents should be valued and recognised for the positive impact they can have upon the children in their care. The fathers role should be included as an equal and valued component of paranting in the planning and delivery of services for children and fathers have a right to maximise their full potential as confident parents. It’s fun meeting with fathers and it helps promote ideas and get support.


Joining our project will bring many benefits to you and your children.

Our Group Purposes
Our Group Principles
Single Fathers
Young Single Fathers
Child contact issues
Government proposals
Are two parents always better than one?
Getting on with the other parent
Different experiences of parenting, different expectations
Money, housing and contact

Domestic violence and child abuse


Our Group Purposes

To promote active consideration and inclusion of fathers needs amongst those agencies and organisations responsible for strategic/ policy development and service delivery.

To generate opportunities for fathers to participate activity in the development and delivery of services and activities for their children.

To develop a body of knowledge and expertise on the issue of fatherhood and share and disseminate this with others.

To generate opportunity’s for fathers to build upon their skills as parents carers for the benefit of their children.

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Our Group Principles

Male parents should be values and recognised for the positive impact they can have upon the children in their care.

The fathers role should be included as an equal and valued component of par4nting in the planning and delivery of services for children.

Fathers have a right to maximise their full potential as confident parents.

Good practice on working with father should be identified, recognised and shared with fellow workers and all parents.

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Single Fathers

Whilst it is true that most single parents with care of their children are women, 11% are single fathers. Do single fathers face the same issues as single mothers, or different ones? Here is one point of view, written by one of SPAN's volunteers. If you have a different one let us know what you think.

All single parents will have their own unique experiences – times of self-doubt and struggle and times of happiness and contentment. How different is it being a single father than a single mother? It is not a matter I am particularly conscious of.

Few people plan to become a single parent. Fewer fathers expect to take on that role. From the moment I realised I was a single parent with all the responsibilities it entailed, I felt not only lucky but blessed. I knew few fathers become the main or sole parent after separation. All things being equal the courts will award the mother custodial rights. Other feelings I have felt about becoming a single dad include a sense of destiny or purpose, the feeling that my life has a strong foundation and that nothing can ever be as important as bringing up my son.

Then there are matters that bring you back down to earth – issues that all single parents face. Getting used to having a limited income and needing to count the pennies. Those times when parenting can become a battle – over serious and trivial matters – when you've got to grit your teeth, keep your head and get through it. Or your own social life and relationships needing loads of compromise and flexibility, and putting a career on the backburner.

While most single mothers still face prejudice and stereotyping, single fathers seem to escape this. The common reaction to me being a single parent is ‘fair play' or ‘nice one', especially from men (I can't recall a negative reaction). Maybe people are more inquisitive about your story. Having a son, our relationship is viewed as ‘natural', ‘instinctive', ‘normal'. I wonder whether having a daughter would be more problematic – from needing to draw on more experiences than your own to worrying about suspicions of sexual abuse?

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Young Single Fathers

Young, single, non-residential fathers: their involvement in fatherhood by Suzanne Speak, Stuart Cameron and Rose Gilroy. Joseph Rowntree Foundation (1997) Social Policy Research 137

Summary
A number of research studies investigating young, unmarried parents in recent years have focused almost entirely on the mothers. Little is known about the role of young single fathers in the formation of such new families or about the barriers they may have to overcome if they wish to participate in their children's upbringing. A study by Newcastle University investigated a group of single, non-residential, non-custodial fathers aged 16-24 who did want to be involved with their children. The study found that:

  • Fathers felt they were made to feel unimportant both during the pregnancy and after the birth. Little effort was made to encourage them to develop and maintain involvement with their child. However, the men themselves saw 'being there' for their children as extremely important. They were keen to be 'better' or more involved fathers than their own fathers had been.

  • Few young men were aware of their lack of legal rights in relation to their child. There was an amount of misinformation both amongst fathers and those working with them. No information on rights was readily available to them.

  • Most of the fathers did report contributing towards their child's maintenance. However, this sometimes took the form of gifts, clothing, treats and practical child-care if cash was limited. The men resented the fact that their financial contributions would be deducted from the mother's Income Support and thus not benefit the child.

  • Difficulties establishing and maintaining a suitable independent home prevented men from having greater access to and involvement with their children. Unemployment and resulting lack of money also prevented young men being involved in the way they wanted to be.

  • Because of their young age many felt unable to access support from the few fathers groups which existed. They did not feel welcome at general family support groups or support groups established for young mothers.

  • Both the child's paternal and maternal grandparents strongly influenced the young man in developing an early relationship with his child. Despite the stress it sometimes caused, the fathers' families often helped with accommodation and financial support.

Even allowing for the increase in cohabitation in recent years, there is a greater chance of a child conceived and born out of marriage being raised from birth by a mother alone in the 1990s than there was a decade ago. Whilst research in recent years has focused on single lone mothers, little is known about the role of the men who fathered their children. Birth data do not record details of a child's unmarried father. Thus, single fathers are invisible as a group; we have no way of knowing precisely how many there are or, more importantly, how many maintain a close relationships with their children, or what form their relationships may take.

A previous study by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne highlighted the relationship between disadvantaged background and the young age of some single mothers, and their ability to establish and maintain an independent home on leaving the family home or care (see Social Policy Research Findings No 72). It also highlighted the fact that many young women do not recognise the importance of a father's involvement with his child. Building on that, this study sought to understand the relationship between youth, disadvantage and a young, single, non-residential father's involvement with his child. The study focused on a group of 40 young single non-residential fathers from disadvantaged backgrounds, who did maintain relationships with their children after their sexual or romantic relationships with the children's mothers had ended. It highlighted both their perceptions of fatherhood and the difficulties they encountered in maintaining a relationship with their children.

Perceptions and Aspirations
By the point of interview the men were no longer in a romantic or sexual relationship with their children's mothers. All the relationships had ended by the time the child was a few weeks old, in many cases before it was born. An unplanned pregnancy was not seen as any basis for committing to a life-time together. None of the men saw a need to marry the mother, although several did begin cohabiting as a result of the pregnancy. Where this was the case cohabitation was short-lived.
None of the 40 men involved in the study had intended to become a father at that point in their lives but once they were the majority were proud of their new status. Only two admitted considering abortion, the rest were strongly opposed to it on moral grounds. They wanted to be good fathers, many expressing a desire to be better or different in their fathering than their own fathers had been. In some cases this related to their own father's bad or abusive behaviour but in most they simply wanted to be more involved with their children than their own father had been with them. When asked what they saw their role as and what they had to offer to the child, the term 'being there' was often used. All the men felt it was important that a child should know and have a relationship with both parents if at all possible.

Young men caring for children
Most of the men were proud to be seen as competent carers, and displayed a knowledge of child-care issues. Several felt that they were better carers of their small children than the mothers were. In some cases the men expressed concerns about the parenting abilities of their children's mothers. Caring for their children, changing nappies or feeding them was not seen as 'sissy' and often the men's friends would become involved. Several of the men provided child-care enabling the mothers to go to groups, training or work, or simply as a means of respite for the mothers.

Maintaining a Relationship
The men experienced a range of different situations and circumstances but highlighted several issues which had an impact on their ability to develop and maintain relationships with their children.

The legal position
Only one of the men understood that as an unmarried father he effectively had no legal rights in relation to his child's upbringing. This lack of information and knowledge was also found amongst many of those working with young men. There was an amount of misinformation including the mistaken belief that paying maintenance or having his name on the birth certificate gave the father equal rights with the mother. There was no system of informing or educating young men about their rights.

The involvement of other people
The young men's relationships with their children were conditioned to a large degree by other people. The most common reason given by the fathers for not having more contact with their children was the mothers' reluctance to let them. Conversely, others said that the mothers were the ones who had insisted on their involvement.
The child's grandparents played a big role in the development of the father/child relationship. This was especially true of the paternal grandparents, who often gave practical, financial and moral support to the young man. Many of the fathers reported that it was their own mothers who had instigated the first contact between the father and his new child.
Most but by no means all paternal grandparents welcomed the child as a new member of the family. However, in many cases this strained the family accommodation and budget, especially where the young father had siblings at home.


Support and assistance
The young men received virtually no professional support with their parenting. There are few services or groups set up specifically for young men with children. The very few father support groups in the country tend to attract older men, and the support and education systems surrounding young single mothers are not well-attended by the young fathers. Some of the fathers in the study had attended parent-and-toddler groups with their children but had not found the situation comfortable or helpful. Youth and community workers were reported as being the most supportive but this was generally ascribed to the attitude of individual workers, rather than the service itself. Social work support was not available for young fathers as a general rule.


The role of housing
Housing and housing policy could make it more difficult for the young man to visit his child or to become independent of his family and have his child visit him. Several of the fathers still living at home with their families expressed a desire to set up stable homes of their own in order to provide a 'second home' for their children. Whilst single person's accommodation is available in the study area, local authority allocations systems, and the disadvantaged nature of the areas where most available housing is to be found, presented problems. Being housed in a different neighbourhood meant men lost their support networks and had to find money for transport to visit their children and families.

Employment, financial situation and maintenance

All the men had experienced unemployment since leaving school. Only four were employed at the point of interview but another 19 had held jobs. Employment had generally been low paid and temporary. Almost all the men had been on at least one training course. The men had poor perceptions of their employment prospects and of employers and employment services. They expressed a desire for a "good job" for the "long term". It may be that their motivation for involvement with their children was driven out of a need to carve new roles and identities for themselves in the absence of a traditional bread-winner role.
The majority (29) of the men reported paying some form of maintenance to the mothers, ranging from under UK5.00 per week to UK15.00 per week. When money could not be paid the men often bought gifts and clothes for their children. Few of the fathers had been contacted by the Child Support Agency, although the mothers of their children had given the Agency their names. Three said they had deliberately avoided contact. The children's mothers were also happy to accept child-care and baby-sitting as a form of child support.


Conclusions
In the current political and cultural climate, our response to young, single fathers has been based on a range of assumptions about masculinity, changing male roles and, in relation to the youngest men, media portrayal of feckless youth. However, if young unmarried mothers and their children are to be supported, we must understand the role which the fathers can play. This means understanding their reactions to fatherhood and what may help or hinder their positive involvement in their child's upbringing.

This and other studies are beginning to show that young single men are as diverse in their parenting practices as any other group of fathers. Whilst many may be willing and eager to engage in a responsible and caring relationship with their children, a range of issues hinder that involvement.
The researchers conclude that:

 

  • Because of the way in which birth data are collected single fathers are invisible as a group and thus their needs as fathers cannot be incorporated in policy. Younger single fathers may also have additional needs relating to their young age.
  • The opportunity which fatherhood offers for encouraging young men into training, education and employment should be recognised. Lessons can be learned from work being carried out with young men in the United States, where fatherhood projects are successful in encouraging young men to re-enter education or employment for the sake of their children. Agencies involved with young men and with mothers need to address the needs of young fathers, in terms of education for parenthood, counselling and support. The parenthood education work being undertaken in young offenders institutions in Britain offers an example of what might be achieved by other agencies.
  • Housing services have a vital role to play in supporting young men who are making the transition to independence. For this group of young fathers it is not sufficient simply to supply housing as a commodity; it may be more appropriate to link housing to a package of support. This effectively means a need for a more integrated inter-agency approach to policy-making and delivery.
  • When able to, young men may be more inclined to pay maintenance if the child, rather than the state, would benefit directly. Greater recognition of other forms of non-financial support might encourage a father's involvement.

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Child contact issues

Parents often disagree on how much contact the other parent should have, if any! How much is fair, practical or indeed safe for the child. Others feel that the other parent is not interested or pulling their weight. What do you think? Tell us about your views and experiences.

The government is proposing more mediation in and out of court. Court cases are to be changed as they create more conflict, are slow, expensive and very poor at dealing with domestic violence issues. Have you had any experience of mediation or court over contact? Tell us about it. What was useful and what was negative about it? What changes would you like to see?


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Government proposals

The government is not proposing any changes to the principles of the law, which are: the needs and welfare of children are the most important factor; both parents have equal rights to meaningful contact with the child. What need changing are court procedures. Only a minority of parents resort to the courts but the numbers are rising. The courts are ineffective (slow; expensive; ineffective to deal with domestic violence; enforcement orders often don't work) and non-resident parents are often not satisfied with the results. Conflict between parents is painful for children and court cases are often making this worse. The government proposals are to promote mediation-type resolutions over court by improving mediation, information and advice services. For cases that do end up in court a facilitation, problem solving approach is proposed, unless there are issues of harm involved. Investigation of allegation of domestic violence in court cases is to be improved, court cases are to become faster and enforcement more effective.

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Are two parents always better than one?

The Government assumes that equal contact and shared parenting is the best solution for children and parents, but this might not suit everybody. It is important to accept that people have different views on how they want to handle contact and parenting after separation. It is important not to make parents feel inadequate if they don't wish to go for an equal arrangement; in this case this might work against the interest and needs of the child. Sometimes this can also be practically impossible. Issues of harm and domestic violence are also paramount here.

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Getting on with the other parent

Research indicates that good quality of relationship, communication and a commitment to welfare of the child are key factors to make contact arrangements work. Research indicates also that most parents are aware that having meaningful contact with both parents is important, but separated parents are often angry with each other and have no trust in the relationship. It takes a long time to deal with these issues. Can we really expect parents in these circumstances to communicate properly and be able to put the welfare of their child above all else?
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Different experiences of parenting, different expectations

Meaningful contact that is satisfactory for both parents is very difficult to achieve. Research shows that parents can have different views about how much and what kind of contact and relationship each parent does and should have. Non–resident parents also feel that they put much more effort into contact arrangements than the resident parent acknowledges. Resident parents (usually mothers) feel that non-resident parents don't pull their weight enough, or are not interested. They often want order and predictability, but non-resident parents that were often used to more flexible arrangements before the relationship broke up, find these difficult. Often parents are unaware of how many changes they have to make to their lives in order to care for their children properly when they have access. Fathers and mothers have often had different experiences of childcare when in a relationship and so it should not be assumed that they have the same expectations, roles or needs. How far can mediation work in these circumstances?

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Money, housing and contact

Both mediation and informal arrangements can be problematic when one parent is relying on the other for money and housing before and after relationship breakdown. Evidence indicates that parents apply to the courts because they feel they need an external party to impose boundaries on issues that they cannot solve, and because it makes them feel more secure. Also it is usually the non-resident parent (usually fathers) who is far less satisfied with court orders and more satisfied with informal arrangements. It is important to keep the court option open, but current proposal want mediation to be at least the first step. Is mediation necessarily better than court?

Parents are often in dispute about money and housing and see that it is fair to have equal contact when parents are contributing equally to the cost and care of their children. In court cases issues of financial support and housing are not taken into account in deciding over contact, but research shows that parents see these as relevant. The Government proposals do not address these issues at all. Should issues of parental responsibility in terms of finance and childcare be related to contact?

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Domestic violence and child abuse

The proposals still see an important role for courts when there are allegations of domestic violence and/or child abuse, and there are proposal to improve the identification of these issues. In the light of evidence indicating that half of cases with allegations of domestic violence result in direct contact, this is particularly important. Perhaps the focus on mediation and problem solving could be negative in this respect?

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