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Entries in Peneloipe Leach (1)


"Family Breakdown" - the book review

After all the pre-publication sound and fury about Penelope Leach's new publication "Family Breakdown", I have now had a chance to read the book itself.  The initial concerns on her statement about no overnights with separated fathers have echoed round the world's press over the past week, and I still find it incredible that someone who is trying to influence both mothers and fathers should take a stance that alienates half her audience.  This isn't helped by her frequent use of the term "absent parent" - even the Child Support Agency has changed to less loaded terminology.

Trying to tell people to behave better after separation is never an easy message to communicate, and it doesn't help if you succeed in antagonising all those fathers who want to continue their hands on approach after splitting up. 

Reading this book is an intensely frustrating experience.  Every so often Penelope Leach raises issues and presents case studies which are very familiar to me from  talking to the fathers who contact FNF Scotland.   Some parts of her discussion of false allegations, parental alienation, concerns about your ex-partner's behaviour and the importance of involved fathers wouldn't be out of place in a Families Need Fathers factsheet.

The book's sub-title "helping children hang on to both parents" gives a clue that it isn't as anti-father as one might fear, but time and time again this even-handed approach is disrupted by sweeping statements on shared parenting that are supposedly backed by recent research evidence. 

The end of the book lists 32 references, of which about 12 appear to be peer reviewed research papers, but very little attempt is made to link these statements in the main text to the actual research finding on which they are based.  Text in coloured boxes is usually referenced, but when you go back to source for one of the key authors (Dr Jennifer McIntosh) it is somewhat alarming to read the comment at the end of her paper "In considering the empirical findings about infant outcomes in parental separation, one needs to bear in mind that this field of research is also in its infancy, and is subject to problems with interpretation."

Family Breakdown ignores the fact that we have a separate legal system in Scotland, so her statement that legal aid is no longer available for family cases holds good only for England and Wales, and her account of court processes is similarly restricted.

In amongst the dire warnings about shared care, this book contains some wise advice for separated parents, but the didactic approach gravely damages its usefulness.  It is supported by a new pressure group Mindful Policy, which promotes attachment theory, and should therefore read as an expression of that viewpoint rather than an impartial guide.

Ian Maxwell

For further comment on this issue see the blogs by Karen Woodall and ExInjuria .