A leading British children’s charity has found that teen age fathers are systematically marginalized in their children’s lives by governmental and private organizations. Here’s one article on the new report by the charitable organization, Barnardo’s (BBC, 12/17/12).
When a teen age boy becomes a father, he’s likely still in school and has plans for his life that don’t include children, at least not in the immediate future. He also has friends with similar plans and attitudes. All of that changes when he learns he’s to be a dad. Of course, he knows little about the nitty-gritty of fatherhood, probably hasn’t held a job for long and, in any event, hasn’t the job skills to get and hold one that can support a family. England offers a range of services for young mothers and fathers, but the young man often doesn’t know what they are or how to access them. Once he does start finding out what’s available, he finds the doors are open wide to her, but closed to him. The British government and charitable organizations overwhelmingly see fathers, and particularly young fathers, as unwanted nuisances, interlopers in the mother-child relationship.
Barnardo’s claims young men are often treated as “invisible” and some policies are actively driving fathers away from their children.Good. I hope the British government and charities pay attention and make changes. It is far past time for people to stop treating fathers like unwanted aliens in the families they help create, support and nurture.
Support services are “mother centred” and leave young fathers feeling “worthless and marginalised”, a report from Barnardo’s and other groups says…
The report, entitled “Are we nearly there yet, Dad?”, identified a range of other issues including:
It calls on professionals to “give more value to the father”, asks local authorities to appoint a lead employee to co-ordinate services for young fathers and says better data should be kept on teenage fatherhood.
- Little or no contact between young fathers and midwives, health visitors and social workers
- A failure by maternity services and children’s centres to even ask about fathers
- Local authority housing benefit rules that prevent fathers from providing homes for their children
- A widespread lack of basic local authority data on the numbers and profile of teenage fathers.
Jonathan Rallings, Barnardo’s assistant director of policy and research, said: “For too long dads have been treated either as optional extras or completely invisible by mother-centred family services.”
They “want to play their part in bringing up their children. However, they all too often receive the message that they’re worthless from services that ignore or marginalise them from the point of pregnancy onwards”.
To be properly involved in their children’s lives, he said, young fathers “need the same kind of support as teen mums. This includes easily accessible parenting advice, help with housing and special timetabling for training and study.
“We are calling on local authorities to help lead a cultural shift in family care, by introducing practices across their services that universally support young dads’ journeys into fatherhood.”
You can find the report, “Are We Nearly There Yet, Dad” here (Barnardo’s, 12/2012). It’s an odd sort of publication. It includes six stories of young fathers trying to find some sort of support for their efforts to be involved in their children’s lives. That’s worthwhile, but the format in which the stories are told is that of a comic book. It so restricts the narrative and the facts presented as to obscure important details about just what happened and why. When Luke gets full custody of his child, does the mom pay child support? Apparently not, but it’s far from clear and if she doesn’t, why doesn’t she? We’re left to guess.
Teen Fathers Change Their Lives to Commit to ChildrenI’ll post another piece about the Barnardo’s report soon, but one thing that becomes clear from the six stories is the deep sincerity of the commitment these young men make to their children. Without exception, every single one of them completely changes his life for the sole purpose of being the most hands-on father he can be. Each does this despite the dogged resistance of various entities from social services to housing authorities to the mothers themselves and of course to the courts. The report doesn’t mention it, but to me, the radical life changes these young men make are the salient feature of the piece. Alone, they give the lie to all the nonsense we read and hear about “irresponsible” fathers.
Into the bargain, the stories presented in “Are We Nearly There Yet, Dad” put flesh on the bones of studies conducted in this country by researchers like Harvard’s Kathryn Edin. She too studied young, poor fathers and found exactly the same sort of desire to be a good, protective father the Barnardo’s report finds. And here as in the UK, mothers, child “welfare” organizations and courts actively intervene to prevent the type of father involvement we so often claim to want and value.
In this country as in England, we have institutionalized father absence. Overwhelmingly, the lack of a father in a child’s life is a function not of paternal irresponsibility, but of maternal power over his right of access and the support given to that power by governmental agencies. We can stop this any time we want to. We can begin to respect and honor fathers for their love and dedication to children and their importance to children’s well-being. When we do so, our children will be better off than they are now. That alone should be enough to get us to change our ways, but clearly it’s not. Outrageously, we still prefer the narrative of the sufficiency of maternal care to the reality that children need both parents. Our preference is so strong that we go to astonishing lengths to make up fictions about fathers – how uncaring, how feckless, how dangerous they are – in order to further marginalize them from their children.
The results are bad for fathers who miss out on their children, bad for mothers who find themselves unable to work and earn as much as they could with an involved father in the family and bad for children who reams of social science prove do better with two parents than with one.
Our policies don’t make sense. Our miserable, sexist narrative of sainted mother and scoundrel dad isn’t worth it.