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Entries in parental rights (6)


Government has an eye on schools' engagement with non-resident parents

  • 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.

Justice Committee supports Scottish Family Law reform

The Scottish Parliament Justice Committee has reported on its recent scrutiny of the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 – passing to its successor a strong case for a broad review of Scottish Family Law.

The committee invited written evidence from a range of legal academics and interested organisations, including Families Need Fathers Scotland, and held two oral evidence sessions.  Ian Maxwell of FNF Scotland took part in the second session.  Issues discussed included parental rights for unmarried fathers with children born before May 2006 and the requirement for a judge to take into account allegations of domestic abuse – or the prospect of domestic abuse – when determining the best interests if the child.

The Committee acknowledges that its scrutiny exercise was a rapid exploration of the effect and effectiveness of the Act but that the views that had been submitted to it had spilled over into a broader consideration of the state of Scotland's family law.

In effect, the Committee says, “It is a report to our successors on the next justice committee, setting out views on which aspects of family law covered in the 2006 Act they may wish to consider in more depth in the next session.”

Ian Maxwell, National Manager of FNF Scotland, said, “We are very grateful to the committee for undertaking this short, sharp exercise. The committee acknowledges that its conclusions are therefore more in the nature of observations than recommendations. However, we feel in time it may be recognised as an important milestone in the modernisation of family law in Scotland by opening up a range of fundamental issues for its successor to explore."

"It will give them the opportunity to take in new insights into family life as it is lived across Scotland, allowing the debate to move on from present entrenched positions. We hope that this will result in legislation that seeks solutions to problems that arise when parent separate that promote parenting rather than control it.”


Scottish child contact and residence laws should be reviewed

In our response to Ron Park's petition on the rights of unmarried fathers to the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee, Families Need Fathers Scotland suggests the child contact and residence law are now out of line with current knowledge of the benefits to children of the involvement of both parents after separation and with other Scottish Government objectives.

The relevant legislation has been overtaken both by social and economic changes within families in Scotland and by Scottish Government policy which now recognises more clearly the obligations of both parents to promote the wellbeing of their children and also their children's right to family life.

FNFS Scotland national manager, Ian Maxwell, says, “The 2006 Act in particular was legislation of its time. We point out in our response to the petitions committee it is salutary but dispiriting to read the official record of the debates on the Act, much of it couched in negative and hostile language that would be out of place today."

"Divorced and separated fathers have to deal with the consequences of that negativity when they discover in court they have to prove their worth as parents to do the same things after separation that were normal parenting before. They feel they are on trial.”

“Our experience is that the 2006 reforms to the 1995 Children (Scotland) Act have tended to polarise conflict between the parents rather than resolve it. The evidence is overwhelming that children prosper when both parents and their extended family are involved and co-operate with mutual respect and legislation should support that objective rather than place obstacles in its way."

"Parents need a route out of conflict so that, in the interests of the children, they will be able to co-operate with tolerance if not enthusiasm. Both mother and father have to be good parents long after the lawyers have gone home."

FNF Scotland believes it is time to bring family law in Scotland up to date to acknowledge  the overall benefits for children of support by both parents.   We believe a culture change is already under way that rejects the marginalisation of fathers.


Judge calls for an end to "Catherine Tate" approach to post separation parenting

English Appeal Court Judge Lord Justice McFarlane has called for an  end to the “Catherine Tate approach to post‐separation parenting”.

In a key speech to the Association of Lawyers for Children in June 2013, he deplores the situation where the parent who holds all the trump cards, because the child is currently living with them, simply shrugs her shoulders and says to the other parent, who merely wants to see his child, “Am I bothered?”.

Commenting on recent changes in England and Wales he says: "The system, the law, now requires them to be bothered. They have a responsibility to be bothered and if they persist in abdicating from that responsibility they can expect all those they encounter in and around the court system to bring them up short." 

His speech outlines the approach which will be taken by the newly created Family Courts in England and Wales, and the way in which the Children and Families Act 2014 will bring about a different approach in England and Wales by replacing "contact" and "residence" orders with "child arrangements" orders.

In his speech he refers to a recent judgement on an appeal from a father who had been denied contact with his two young children by the children’s mother for no apparent reason other than her refusal to engage in the process.

“Parents, both those who have primary care and those who seek to spend time with their child, have a responsibility to do their best to meet their child's needs in relation to the provision of contact, just as they do in every other regard. It is not, at face value, acceptable for a parent to shirk that responsibility and simply to say 'no' to reasonable strategies designed to improve the situation in this regard.”

He also make some favourable comments about fathers seeking contact with their children

"In particular, whilst deprecating some of their tactics, I had, in the course of a number of meetings, sat down in calm circumstances and listened to the stories of a number of fathers who considered that they had been profoundly let down by the system. Whilst it might be that there are genuine, child focused, reasons why individual members of the various fathers’ groups have been denied contact, that could not be said of most of the individuals I have met in that context over the years. There is, in my view, a core validity to the essential complaints that these fathers make."

Despite his surname, Lord Justice McFarlane has no remit within the Scottish court system, but we hope his comments will be heard by family lawyers and judges north of the border.


Growing Up in Scotland study reveals exclusion of some fathers 

The latest set of results from the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) study includes some information about families in which one parent is not resident with the children.

These results are from the latest group of children included in the GUS study, born in 2010/2011.  Their main carer, almost always their mother, was questioned when these babies reached 10 months of age.

21% of these families had a non-resident biological parent, in most cases the father. 57% of these parents had never co-habited and 91% had never been married.

Nearly a quarter (24%) of these children had no contact with their non-resident parent and a further 9% had contact once a month or less.

This study investigated the extent to which these non-resident parents were involved in their children's lives and how this was affected if there was a difficult relationship between the parents. 

Not surprisingly, non-resident parents who have poor relations with the resident parent are far less likely to be consulted about major decisions such as the child's immunisations or diet.

In a quarter of families where the non-resident father's name was on the birth certificate, he was never or rarely consulted about immunisations or his child's diet.  These fathers all have parental rights in order to carry out their responsibilities towards their children, but they are not being given the chance to contribute.

These results come from a study that doesn't make any contact with the non-resident parent.  Even so, it seems to show that a significant number of fathers are being shut out of their children's lives before their child has reached one year of age.  Asking the fathers about how much they are involved might show an even higher level of exclusion.

Parental responsibilities should be acknowledged by all parents, rather than being optional extras that are only respected when separated parents are getting on well with each other.