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Monday
Apr022018

Data desert reinforces prejudice over the role of fathers as parents

Creative Commons on PixabayWords matter.

 

They can release our thinking or they can trap it.

The term non-resident parent was introduced into family law to get rid of the terms “custody” and “access” more than 20 years ago. Referring to the allocation of parenting time with their children between separated parents the new terms “resident” and “non-resident” parent were felt to be less censorious and judgemental and carry less implication that one parent was more important than the other. The emphasis, at least in the cases that end up in court, was intended to move towards joint parental responsibilities and the search for arrangements that would allow both parents to fulfil their responsibilities to their children.

But in reality old assumptions quickly came to infect the “resident” and “non-resident” alternatives.

Separated parents quickly learned that “resident” carries more status in the eyes of friends and family, GP practice managers, schools and social workers than “non-resident”.

Even though at FNF Scotland we dislike the term intensely we end up using it every day. Fathers – and mothers – who come to us for help starting thinking of themselves as “non-resident parents” instead of just parents. They often themselves underestimate the contribution they can continue to make in the lives of their children.

Partly that is because of the advice they get when they go to a solicitor when they can’t reach agreement with their former partner that reflects the amount and quality of parenting time they had with their children before separation. The solicitor will know which sheriffs regard every other weekend as more than enough and who will not take kindly to a dad whom asks for more.

That’s why the recent Fatherhood Institute research is so important. A data desert leads to a policy and practice desert.

 If fathers – separated or not – disappear out of the data then they and their parenting become invisible and easy to dismiss, diminish and disparage. And the minimalist prejudices can be confirmed.

Policy makers, judges and legislators alike should rise to the challenge of recognising the realities of parenting in modern Scotland. There is something wrong when a single term “non-resident parent”  covers one parent who has his children with him up to 3 or 4 nights a week; another who see them every day but can’t take them overnight – housing benefit for younger fathers ignores their parenting responsibilities by insisting they share with other unrelated adults; and another who has his kids every other weekend because he was told not to ask for more; another who doesn’t see them at all.

It’s not only a father’s issue. If the data is inaccurate for fathers it is also inaccurate for mothers. Above all, it’s a children’s issue. Research from around the world shows that children do better in most areas of their lives with the involvement of both parents.

*This article was published in The Herald on 15 March 2018.  It is the first in a series of articles that Families Need Fathers Scotland will publish on this web site setting out our views on family law reform in connection with the consultation that is being carried out by Scottish Government.

 

Monday
Mar122018

Talk by Sue Whitcombe and Pat Barclay

FNF Scotland is holding an evening meeting on Thursday 22nd March about working with parents to overcome their children's resistance to contact.  It takes place at 10 Palmerston Place from 7-9 pm and tickets can be booked using this link.

This session is a chance to hear from two key people who have been undertaking a lot of work with separated families in recent years across Great Britain.  Following presentations about their current experience and what seems to be working, we will have a general discussion about the way forward for parents trying to deal with resistance to contact or outright rejection.

Dr SUE WHITCOMBE is a Counselling Psychologist registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. She is a Chartered member and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Chair of the Training Committee for Counselling Psychology and sits on the BPS Expert Witness Advisory Group and Children and Young People Mental Health Group.
Sue has 20 years’ experience working with children and families and is Principal Psychologist at Family Psychology Solutions, a not-for-profit social enterprise, which she founded with the support of Teesside University.

PAT BARCLAY has considerable experience working with separated families to reduce and protect children from the adverse effects of their parent’s acrimony, with experience of both collaborative separation and litigation through court. Her social work qualifications, knowledge and experience of child development and child protection procedures allows her to provide a specialist service in Scotland of child focused work for family separation.
Her work aims are to protect children caught up in contact disputes and promote contact in the best interest of their welfare and developmental stage. She also has experience of relationship counselling and systemic family counselling to combine with specialist, evidence based knowledge of children’s development and the risk to this from parental conflict.

Tuesday
Feb202018

Shared parenting outcomes independent of family income or parental conflict

Dr Linda NielsenA roundup of 60 research studies published by Linda Nielsen shows that joint physical custody (shared parenting) is linked to better outcomes for children on all the measures of behavioural, emotional, physical and academic wellbeing, compare with sole physical custody.

This meta-analysis published in the Journal of Child Custody considers results from studies published in English which had statistically analysed quantitative data that considered outcomes for children in shared or sole parental care after considering both family income and parental conflict.  These factors are sometimes considered to affect the likelihood of successful shared care, but Nielsen's analysis showed that shared parenting is generally linked to better outcomes independent of either factor.

This does not mean that children do not benefit in any way from living in higher income households or experiencing low levels of conflict between their parents, but better outcomes can occur even in low income or conflicted situations.  Given this, it is suggested that the quality of the children's relationships with their parents, step-parents and grandparents are more important indicators of wellbeing.

Thursday
Feb012018

Scottish Parliament agrees Cross Party Group on Shared Parenting 

Ivan McKee MSPThe Scottish Parliament Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee of the Scottish Parliament today approved the establishment of a cross party group on Shared Parenting.

The Group is the initiative of Ivan McKee, SNP MSP for Glasgow Provan, who will convene it along with Gillian Martin MSP and Adam Tomkins MSP.

Its most immediate task will be to work to inform the Scottish Government’s forthcoming review of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.

McKee said: “Where both parents are involved in their children’s upbringing, there is clear evidence this benefits those children’s educational and social development. So it follows, shared parenting is a key mechanism for closing the attainment gap and tackling inequalities”.

He added: “On the other hand, traditional gender assumptions about who is most appropriate to do what in child raising, influences children’s perceptions from their earliest years and impacts on their career choices and economic opportunities. This CPG on Shared Parenting will identify, examine and promote policy and practice that supports both parents in sharing parenting responsibilities and will tackle gender stereotypes head on, in the pursuit of a better understanding of what we need to do to ensure the best possible childhood and most promising adult life for Scotland's children. It will enable MSPs like myself to engage in debate with a wide range of organisations and stakeholders to inform policy developments and practice which impact on parents sharing responsibilities for the role." 

FNF Scotland will provide secretariat services to the new CPG.

Ian Maxwell, national manager of FNF Scotland, said, "2018 is going to be a big year for the development of family policy in Scotland, not least the promised review of the 1995 Children (Scotland) Act which will refresh our assumptions about what what we mean by making Scotland the best place for children to grow up. We are delighted to take on the administrative support tasks of the group. A wide range of organisations with an interest in parenting have already signed up. Any others who would like to share in the conversation should email us.

Thursday
Feb012018

Time to end two 'classes' of parents

FNF Scotland's submission to the consultation on the Scottish Government's proposed Education Bill argues that it is time to overturn the custom and practice that gives 'non-resident' parents a reduced level of engagement with their child's school.

Most importantly, there has never been an educational argument to defend that secondary status of the 'non-resident' parent. To the contrary, research from around the world and the experience of those schools in Scotland that have been active in engaging with non-resident parents shows that children benefit on a range of measures from the involvement of both parents in their learning.

However, FNF Scotland argues the current system that allows schools to provide a lesser level of communication with 'non-resident' parents - mostly fathers - breaches their duties in terms of Equality law. 

FNF Scotland supports the Scottish Government's overarching commitment to challenging gender stereotyping wherever it limits the expectations and opportunities of our citizens. The insistence of most schools that they will choose one parent as the main parent is unfair to both mothers and fathers.

The FNF Scotland submission says that not only the law but the administrative substructure of data gathering by schools has to be addressed. In particular it should be required that a standard Scotlandwide pupil enrolment form is devised to include details of both parents (or kinship/institutional carers). Without a standard enrolment form and the subsequent 'annual data update' form that gives both parents equal recognition the two classes of parent are likely to continue.

FNF Scotland accepts that in a minority of cases it will not be in a child's interests for the 'non-resident' parent to be given the same information flow.  Such a decision should follow some form of due process and should not simply reflect the preference of the other parent. This will involve overhauling the ambiguous terms of the 2003 Educational Records regulations, removing the burden of 'taking sides' away from school staff to an independent procedure.