Thursday, November 18, 2004

Report to seek 'father inclusive culture'

Social workers and the welfare system in Ireland treat men as "dangerous, non-nurturing beings" according to a report to be published next week, a story by Kitty Holland in The Irish Times (premium content) for November 18th 2004 says.

Main points from the report:

- "The overall orientation of welfare systems to exclude men [is] so powerful that even in cases of inclusive practice clear evidence emerged of men's exclusion."

- "The dynamics of such exclusion took many forms, the most common and powerful of which was a view of men as dangerous, non-nurturing beings."

- Social workers generally expect mothers to carry the burden of caring for children, "leaving the potential resource fathers have to offer largely untapped". The fault lies with the organisational culture of social work rather than with individual social workers, it says.

- Young unmarried fathers "are perhaps the most at-risk yet invisible category of all", says the report. "

- The position of men in public debates on teenage pregnancy is absent and negative as if the children had no fathers. "At its worst they are officially written out of the script of family life due also to the significant pattern of the man's name being omitted from the birth certificate."

- The fact that lone-parent allowance is only paid on condition that the mother does not cohabit has the effect of excluding fathers.

- Forty-two per cent of fathers interviewed were separated or divorced and all spoke of "the exclusion they felt by the family law system, including social services, which they saw as cruelly sexist and anti-man/father".

- "The children in such cases spoke openly of their desire to have relationships with their fathers."

Among the report's 12 recommendations are:

- Paid paternity leave.

- All agencies working with children should develop explicit father-inclusive policies.

- A range of support services, including parenting classes, should be funded for fathers.

- The family law and welfare systems should be overhauled to make them more "father-friendly" and give "due recognition to the rights of unmarried fathers".

The report is entitled Strengthening Families Through Fathers. Its authors are Prof Harry Ferguson of the University of the West of England and Mr Fergus Hogan of the Waterford Institute of Technology. They interviewed 24 "vulnerable" fathers, 10 mothers, 11 children and 19 professionals for the study. By "vulnerable" the authors mean men who experienced problems including marital or relationship breakdown, relationship problems with their children, poverty, addictions, survival of sexual abuse and/or domestic violence, Ms Holland writes.

The study was supported by the Family Support Agency.

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