- Glasgow Provan MSP, Ivan McKee, raised the issue of the patchy engagement of some local authorities in Scotland with non-resident parents in the Scottish Parliament on February 9th. Answering for the Scottish Government, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney, agreed that research shows the educational benefit to children of the involvement of parents in their learning and anticipates further development of government guidance in this area.
- The officlal report reads:
- Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that schools communicate with both resident and non-resident parents.
- The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney): The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 imposes a range of duties on local authorities and schools to promote the involvement of all parents in their children’s education. Paragraph 20 of the statutory guidance on the act makes it clear that: “It is important that education authorities and schools do as much as they can to support the continued involvement of parents who don’t live with their children.”
- The National Parent Forum of Scotland has been undertaking a review of the 2006 act and will make its recommendations to the Scottish Government in the spring. The Government will consider the forum’s report, including any conclusions that relate to communication and consultation between schools and non-resident parents.
- Ivan McKee: There is much research that shows that children learn better when both parents are actively involved in their education. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of non-resident parents find themselves excluded from involvement in their children’s school life, often through the poor engagement practices of local authorities.
- There is good practice by Western Isles Council, which does not start from the presumption that all children live with both parents. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the issuing of guidelines to encourage local authorities to share best practice would benefit the educational attainment of the up to 30 per cent of children who do not live with both parents?
- John Swinney: I agree with Mr McKee’s conclusions about the research evidence. The issue is strongly reflected in the national improvement framework, which highlights the involvement of parents in young people’s educational experience as a significant consideration that schools and local authorities should take into account. I am familiar with the good practice that emanates from the Western Isles on the question and I certainly agree that the quality of guidance is important to inform improved practice.
- As I indicated in my original answer, we expect a review of many of the issues from the National Parent Forum. I will reflect on that and on Mr McKee’s points, which will inform any further development of guidance by the Government.
Following our recent training session on the changes to the child maintenance system conducted by John Fotheringham, we have produced a note summarising some of the points that were covered in the session.
Many people are now having their case under the previous child support system closed and the training note describes some basic aspects of the new system and some of the changes in the way maintenance is calculated. The note also describes how variations and shared care are dealt with in the new scheme and how aliment interfaces with child support, all mainly from the viewpoint of the person who pays maintenance.
Families Need Fathers Scotland would like to hear from anyone facing problems with this transition or who is being asked to pay the new charges without good reason. FNF UK has made a submission to the House of Commons select commitee enquiry into the working of the new system and also took part in an oral hearing on November 16th 2016.
Separated fathers often face resistance when they ask for their young children to stay overnight.
But a new study published in Psychology, Public Policy and Law suggests overnights in both parents’ homes (up to and including equal time spent in each) are associated with benefits to both mother-child and father-child relationships – even if the overnight parenting plan is imposed against one parent’s initial wishes. The controversy relating to overnights has already been addressed in review papers by Warsak and Nielsen supporting the benefits of overnight stays with separated fathers.
This new study by William Fabricius and Go Woon Sun shows that these benefits held after controlling for subsequent parenting time with fathers in childhood and adolescence, parent education and conflict up to 5 years after the separation, and children’s sex and age at separation. It focussed on longer-term associations with overnights, maintained a focus on the father-child relationship and also examined daytime-only parenting time. Data were obtained from 230 college students whose parents separated before they were three years of age and from at least one of their parents.
While the findings do not establish causality they provide strong support for policies to encourage frequent overnight parenting time for infants and toddlers, because the benefits associated with overnights also held for parents who initially agreed about overnights as well as for those who disagreed and had the overnight parenting plan imposed over 1 parent’s objections. The observed benefits for the long-term father-child relationship are consistent with findings from intervention studies showing that fathers who are more involved with infants and toddlers develop better parenting skills and relationships with their children.
Glasgow University Institute for Health and Wellbeing is seeking applications to undertake a PhD studentships on father-child relationships.
Research on the role of fathers in children’s socialisation has mainly focused on the benefits of father’s direct engagement in parenting activities in early childhood, including routine care and play. Much less is known about the importance of paternal emotional support for the child (warmth and responsiveness), highlighted in a re-conceptualisation of father involvement . Given increasing numbers of children with non-resident biological fathers and/or a resident social father, it is particularly important to investigate facilitators and benefits of supportive father-child relationships in non-traditional family types.
This PhD project would use data from around 3,000 10-12 year old children and their parents in the Growing Up in Scotland study. It would involve a statistical analysis of the factors promoting supportive father-child relationships and other aspects of father involvement, as well as the benefits of involvement for children’s socio-emotional adjustment, among different family types.
It is expected that the study will also have a qualitative component, collecting data from a sub sample of fathers in order to supplement the results of the statistical analysis. For example, it may focus on men who report low engagement with their children, exploring how they reflect on how themselves were parented as a context for their own parenting behaviour.
An appeal judgement from the Court of Session expresses strong concern about the way child contact cases are handled in Scottish courts.
In commenting on the length of time taken to make a contact order in the case at appeal, Lord Glennie states:
"The time taken to resolve disputes about contact should be measured not in years but in weeks or, at most, months. We recognise that there may be subsequent applications to vary contact arrangements, but the initial decision should be capable of being made, following a short well-organised evidential hearing, within this time-frame."
The child contact action in this particular case took from January 2010 to October 2013 to reach a judgement. Even when contact was ordered by the court it was sporadic and it is currently more than a year since the father has seen his son.
Delays in child contact cases in Scottish Courts have been criticised before, including by the Supreme Court in NJDB v JEG in 2012, and in the Civil Justice Review.
Families Need Fathers Scotland knows of a significant number of other Scottish contact cases which have spent years in court. Now that we have such a clear and forthright statement of aims by judges in Scotland's highest court, we will be pressing the judiciary and the Scottish Government to implement changes which will translate these aims into reality.
The father in this case is lodging a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that this failure to ensure contact is in breach of his human rights under article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Recent cases such as Malec v Poland and Moog v Germany have upheld such complaints and fined the respondent states.
The main part of this judgement concerned the mother's successful appeal against her prison sentence for contempt of court because a contact order was not carried out. This also raises issues about how courts should enforce child contact orders. FNF Scotland and other stakeholders will be taking part in a meeting later this month called by Scottish Government to discuss how such orders should be enforced.