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THE IMPORTANCE OF FATHERS. Adrienne Burgess 22 September 2010. Professionals must keep up with CHANGES WITHIN FAMILIES. Fatherhood is changing

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adrienne burgess 22 september 2010


Adrienne Burgess

22 September 2010


Professionals must keep up with



Fatherhood is changing

  • • British fathers now do 25% of childcare related activities on weekdays and 33% at weekends - more when both parents work full-time (EOC, 2003)
  • • 57.8% of children in referred families live with both biological parents; and 44.8% of the rest have contact with their father (Phares & Lum, 1997)
  • Once “absent” doesn’t mean forever absent: among fathers who are “not involved” at the time of the birth, 29% are described as “involved” 3 years later
  • (Kiernan & Smith, 2003)

Motherhood is changing

  • • 50% of mothers of 9-month-olds are in paid employment (Dex & Ward, 2010) • Mothers who don’t work are mainly lone or otherwise
  • disadvantaged mothers (Hales et al, 2007)
  • Unequal sharing of caring work is the largest single
  • driver of the gender pay gap (Olsen & Walby, 2004)
  • Full-time maternity leave taken beyond six months
  • very negatively affects women’s future earnings
  • (Cawston et al, 2009)

Family Services must comply with

POLICY & LEGISLATIONrequiring engagement with fathers


The Children Act (1989)

Fathers are parents under the Act irrespective of whether they

have Parental Responsibility, so they should be involved in

case conferences etc, where decisions are made

The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need

and their Families (DH, 2000)

Assessors must: ‘take all reasonable steps to gather information

about, and from, all relevant family members, whether

resident or not, and requires them to be clear about the roles

played by fathers or father-figures.”


The Childcare Act (2006)

    • Requires local authorities to identify parents and prospective parents who are unlikely to use early childhood services e.g. fathers (who are specifically mentioned), and facilitate their access to those services.
  • The Equality Act (2006)
    • Requires public bodies to publish an action plan for promoting gender equality, assess differential impact of service on women and men, and gather information on the differential impact.

Working Together to Safeguard Children (2006)

  • “The child’s welfare is paramount. This could include a young father at risk of harm and then the welfare of both the father and the child is considered.”
    • The Welfare Act (2009)
    • Legal change in England & Wales to require birth registration for unmarried fathers: health and other professionals will need to engage with fathers for this purpose.

VERY RECENT GOVERNMENT POLICY explicitly requiring engagement with fathers

  • The Childcare Strategy (DWP, HM Treasury, DCSF, Cabinet Office, 2009)
  • Healthy lives, brighter futures: the strategy for children and young people’s health (DCSF, DH, 2009)
  • Support for All (Green Paper on families) (DCSF, 2010)
  • Teenage Pregnancy Strategy: beyond 2010 (DCSF, DH, 2010)
  • Maternity and Early Years: making a good start to family life (DH, DCSF, 2010)
  • Parenting and Family Support: guidance for Local Authorities in England (DCSF, 2010)

And the COALITION . . . ?

  • So far, none of the previous guidance or legislation has been repealed. In addition, The Coalition has committed to:
  • encouraging shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy
  • reducing gender inequalities at work
  • achieving a better gender balance in the early years workforce,
  • ensuring that both men and women use couple relationship support services
  • (The Coalition - our Programme for Government: Freedom, Fairness, Responsibility - May, 2010)
  • reviewing the Family Justice System (June, 2010).

Fathers affect mothers

    • Child-mother attachment is more secure when child-father attachment is secure (for review see Guterman & Lee, 2005)
    • Heavy drinking by fathers is associated with double the risk of insecure attachments between mothers and infants (Eiden & Leonard, 1996)
    • The father’s smoking is by far the biggest predictor of the mother’s smoking (Bottorff et al, 2006)
    • Post-natal Depression in mothers is associated with a poor relationship with her baby’ father, his non-presence at the birth, his lack of support, low involvement in infant care, his rigid sex role expectations, being critical/coercive/violent, and his own poor mental health (for review, see Fisher et al, 2006).

Fathers affect children . . .


Some people say like father like son. But I think they are wrong.

Like father like daughter. I’m exactly like my Dad. Not in looks – in personality. We both like fishing and picnics. (Emma, Yr6)

(DfES/Fathers Direct, 2003)

You are my teddy at night. (Naomi, Yr4)

(DfES/Fathers Direct, 2003)



  • Children with highly involved fathers tend to have:
    • better friendships with better-adjusted children
    • fewer behaviour problems
    • lower criminality and substance abuse
    • higher educational achievement
    • greater capacity for empathy
    • non-traditional attitudes to earning and childcare
    • more satisfying adult sexual partnerships
    • higher self-esteem and life-satisfaction
    • (for reviews see Flouri 2005; Pleck and Masciadrelli 2004)


  • e.g. . . .
  • If fathers do lots of infant care, babies whose mothers work full time
  • are unlikely to suffer any disadvantage (Gregg & Washbrook, 2003)
  • Children tend to be affected by their mother’s poor mental health (including Post Natal Depression), but a good and close relationship with their father tends to protect them from the worst effects (Hall, 2004)
  • Children in families suffering from multiple disadvantage talk and learn better when their fathers or father-figures are satisfied with parenting, provide financial support and engage in nurturant play (Black et al, 1995)


‘My dad ... make me feel bad, (is) strict, not happy,

frightens me, don’t care about me’ (12 year old)

(Russell et al., 1999)

‘I love my dad: loveable, fun, mean, unkind ...

I hate it when my dad comes home drunk

that’s when he starts fighting with my mum’ (11 year-old)

(Russell et al., 1999)



    • Conflict with fathers, fathers’ negativity and fathers’ harsh or neglectful parenting are strongly associated with behaviour problems in children
    • (Phares 1999; Flouri 2005)
    • Fathers’ harsh parenting has a stronger effect than mothers’ on children’s aggression
    • (Phares 1999; Flouri 2005)
    • Getting on badly with EVEN ONE PARENT more than doubles the likelihood of a young person engaging in anti-social behaviour
    • (Wood, 2005)
    • Failure to meet and assess the father puts children at risk: young expectant fathers who report poor relations with their own parents during the prenatal interview have higher child abuse potential scores at follow up (Florsheim & Ngu, 2003)


  • Dear Dad, I only see you once a week … Some small things I ask of you: please come to my school plays and come to parents’ evening to see how I’m getting on. (12 year-old)
  • (DfES/Fathers Direct, 2003)
  • Dear Father, I don’t say dear dad, because you have not been a dad to me, have you? My name is Daniel I am Rebecca Buck’s son. You might not remember my mother, but I think about you all the time. (11 year-old)
  • (DfES/Fathers Direct, 2003)


  • When children rarely or never see their fathers, they tend to:
  • demonise or idealise them
  • (Kraemer, 2005; Gorrell Barnes et al, 1998)
  • blame themselves for their absence
  • (Pryor & Rodgers, 2001)
  • suffer substantial distress, anger and self-doubt (Fortin et al, 2006; Laumann-Billings & Emery, 1998)

The FATHER’S commitment may be key to the

  • success of an intervention:
  • Families are more likely to stay in treatment when:
  • The father is supportive of the treatment (Shapiro & Budman, 1973)
  • The father is the more enthusiastic participant
  • (Littlejohn & Bruggen, 1994).
  • The therapeutic alliance with the father is positive
  • (Cauce et al, 2002).


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11 November 2010




or 0845 634 1328