In my last post, I discussed the report by the British children’s charity, Barnardo’s, that came out recently. It’s about teen fathers and the treatment they receive at the hands of various governmental and charitable agencies. Unsurprisingly, young fathers fare even worse than their more mature counterparts. Agencies that help and support mothers shove young fathers to the side, sometimes because of their own anti-father bias and sometimes because the law requires them to.
An important part of the report entitled “Are We Nearly There Yet, Dad,” consists of the stories of six young fathers and their experiences with coming to grips with fatherhood and the obstacles placed in their way by governmental and private organizations. As I said in my previous piece, the format of these stories truncates them considerably, but Nick’s story gives an idea of what young fathers face. Here it is (Barnardo’s, 12/2012):
Age 17: Nick and his girlfriend find out they’re going to have a baby, and their relationship breaks down during the pregnancy. After his child is born, Nick becomes withdrawn because his ex-girlfriend and her family won’t let him see his daughter. He is referred to Working with Men (WWM) by his sixth form teacher who sees he needs support.
WWM put Nick on an Expectant Fathers Course which allows him to meet other young fathers, learn about the practicalities of parenting and get advice from a midwife. Nick becomes more determined to see his daughter and develops his confidence to speak up at meetings about his situation.
His support worker carries out an assessment of his needs and realises mediation is needed to enable the two families to talk. The maternal grandparents are resistant, but eventually both families agree to attend a meeting supported by WWM. The young parents’ families are heavily involved in the situation and become angry and upset with each other during the meeting. Eventually the maternal grandparents agree Nick can see the baby at specified times at their house.
Nick and his ex-girlfriend get back together. Her mother is angry about this and kicks her out of the family home. She and the baby go to stay with Nick and his mum. This causes further tension between the maternal and paternal grandparents. Nick and his girlfriend approach housing services for support and the mother and baby are placed in a mother and baby unit. As Nick is aged under 18, he is allowed to visit but not live with them.
Age 18: Nick is living at home with his parents while his partner is moved to semi-independent housing. She is struggling to cope and begins drinking heavily and having inappropriate relationships with other men. She is under social care supervision and there are concerns for her baby. At this time Nick is seeing his daughter weekly and looks after her at his parent’s house.
Social services decide the baby needs to be taken into care after the mother goes missing and is found in a risky situation. The baby becomes a looked after child but stayed with the maternal grandmother, who becomes her primary carer.
Nick wants his baby to live with him. Social services feel that he is too immature, isn’t working regularly and lacks life skills. However he is looking after her for half the week without financial support. He is told that his daughter will stay with the maternal grandmother until she is 18. WWM helps him find a solicitor for advice.
Age 19: Nick’s daughter is two-and-a-half. His life has changed dramatically. He attends a young fathers group and has developed a commitment to fathers’ rights issues. He didn’t finish sixth form but started a training course to become a carpenter and has been employed for over a year. He has legal parental responsibility but only sees his daughter for one overnight stay each week. The involvement of the maternal grandparents has had a significant impact on his engagement with his daughter, and he is still seeking legal advice on getting a residence order.
Government Actively Blocks Father-Daughter BondThe salient features of Nick’s story are several. First, both Nick and his girlfriend are both young, but social services treats them differently based on their sex. For example, although extended families play a vital role in child care, particularly when the parents are young and inexperienced, social services clearly favors her parents over his. That’s true despite the fact that her mother tosses the girlfriend and the baby out on the street, an act that shows no great regard for the baby. Nick’s mom takes the three of them in, but somehow that act of kindness and good sense doesn’t rate with social services.
Second, when Nick and the baby’s mother seek public housing, she gets it, and it’s here that public policy actively intervenes to ensure that Nick and his child are separated. Supposedly because he was not yet 18, Nick was prevented from being with his child or her mother. Plainly this housing regulation, designed for who knows what purpose, accomplished the destruction of Nick’s family. It shoved him out of his child’s life and established his girlfriend as the only appropriate care giver for their daughter. Are young fathers required to pay child support before they’re 18? You bet they are, but when it comes to living with his child and being the active, caring father Nick wanted to be, well, that’s a different story. For that, he was too young.
Third, when the baby’s mother starts “drinking heavily” and abandons the child for an untold period of time, social service finally figures out that maybe mom care wasn’t such a good idea after all. But still it opts for a caring arrangement that keeps Nick at arms length. Yes, he wants to care for the baby and in fact does so half-time without assistance. And yes, his own mother has already demonstrated that she’d be willing to help care for the child, but social services opts for the maternal grandmother – the one who threw her daughter and granddaughter out of her house. Again, despite his efforts and his proof of his commitment to caring for his daughter, despite the fact that his extended family has proven its willingness to provide care, social services was dead set on keeping Nick out of his daughter’s life – forever. Note that, regardless of his demonstrated desire and abilities, he was told that the child will be in her maternal grandmother’s care until she’s 18. That is, Nick is out of the picture. Period.
Finally, notice that, despite the fact that Nick has legal rights to his child, he’s afforded no access to legal counsel with which to enforce them. Social services is neither judge nor jury, but in fact it’s both. From start to finish, it decided who would be allowed to care for Nick’s daughter and from start to finish that person was anyone but Nick. Could an attorney have assisted him in asserting his rights and his fitness? Probably so, but with all the emphasis on getting public service to young fathers, the services Nick needed most – those of an attorney – were absent. He gets parenting classes till he’s blue in the face; he gets employment training so he can earn a living and pay child support. But when it comes to obtaining an effective advocate for his child’s right to her father, the British system turns its back on him.
That’s no accident. As in this country, England likes to appear father-friendly, but just let a dad try to actually assert his parental rights and he soon finds out the vast network of courts, custody evaluators, CPS, guardians ad litem, etc. aren’t interested in him. Neither is the rest of the government. For example, state and federal governments provide child support lawyers to custodial mothers free of charge, but if a father wants to contest a child support order, he has to do so on his own nickel. Is he destitute? That’s his problem and states have no obligation to provide him an attorney to assert the matter. Once again, he’s on his own. And, just like Mom and her child support order, Dad has his order of visitation. But unlike Mom and her child support order, if Mom decides to ignore her obligations to him, he has to pay to try to enforce his order out of his own pocket. And of course, if he elects to try to do so, he’s usually ineffective. Family judges don’t enforce visitation orders in most cases.
Again, the message is clear. In the UK as here, the state prefers fathers bound and gagged and above all out of their children’s lives.