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Families Need Fathers debate at Scottish Parliament

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Many of the issues facing separated fathers in Scotland were raised during a member's motion debate in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 27th February.  The whole debate is featured on the BBC Democracy Live web site.

John Mason MSP, whose motion was being debated, explained how he had been "totally captivated" by the stories he had heard from fathers when he attended a Glasgow FNF meeting last year.  He mentioned how fathers are shut out from their children's lives, and face barriers in getting information from health and education authorities.

He asked the Scottish Government to remind all schools of their obligations to stay in touch with both parents after separation, and mentioned the need for more training and guidance for Sheriffs and anomalies in the way courts deal with requests from unmarried fathers seeking Parental Rights and Responsibilities.

Anne McTaggart MSP gave a more cautious welcome to the motion, mentioning the wide range of family types in Scotland.  She went on to mention the work of Parent Network Scotland, who are currently working with FNF Scotland to develop parenting courses specifically for separated fathers.

Sandra White MSP mentioned the fathers who had told her about contact problems.  She referred to the reform of Scottish Courts, and the problems sometimes faced in enforcing contact orders once they have been made by Sheriffs.

Nanette Milne MSP referred to children suffering because they become pawns in contact battles and mentioned the importance of involving and supporting teenage fathers alongside teenage mothers.

Mark McDonald MSP acknowledged that fathers often get left out when support is given to families, and mentioned the work of the Dads Rock play group  and also the needs of fathers whose children have complex support needs and disabilities.

Malcolm Chisholm MSP mentioned domestic abuse and circumstances in which fathers should not have contact with their children, but omitted to refer to instances where children need protection from the actions of their mother.  He also expressed concern that the name "Families Need Fathers" carries "unacceptable traditional connotations about the nature of the family", while agreeing that the work we do is progressive. 

Christine Graham MSP was a family lawyer before becoming an MSP, and she emphasised that a good family lawyer should help to resolve disputes and not inflame them further.  She mentioned and challenged the presumptions that sometimes prevail: that women should have residence and fathers contact with their children after separation, and that in domestic disputes the man is automatically at fault and has to be removed.   

Her speech concentrated on issues about access to information from schools, and the need to ensure that schools understand the legal requirements on them to treat both parents equally.  She brought up the refusal to provide school photographs to separated fathers and also also mentioned the "cruel, hurtful and incorrect use" of the term "absent parent" in forms used by Scottish Borders Council.

Bob Doris MSP raised the idea of shared care after separation - ensuring that the father is more than a weekend visitor.  Fathers should be a pro-active core part of the family with a role in the life of their children.  He asked why shouldn't separated dads take part in school activities and get access to healthcare information, and mentioned the impact that the UK Government's "bedroom tax" will have on separated parents who face losing Housing Benefit just because they have a spare room for their children on contact visits.

Aileen Campbell MSP, the Minister for Children and Young People, responded to the debate, emphasising the importance of including fathers, not just in the National Parenting Strategy but in all aspects of official support to families.  She announced that FNF Scotland will be represented on the new Father's National Advisory Panel which will scrutinise policy. 

The Minister also mentioned the planned updating of the Parenting Agreement for Scotland and other ways in which FNF Scotland will be involved in future work of the Scottish Government and referred to the problems when children are relocated within the UK without agreement of one of their parents.

Getting even a limited number of MSPs to participate in member's motion debate is challenging, and FNF Scotland thanks all of the individuals who spoke to their own MSPs and encouraged such a high level of interest.  We will follow up all the points that were raised, and encourage our members and supporters to keep up the pressure on the politicians.