About 60% of Britain’s most troubled families are headed by single mothers according to a recent governmental study. The Cameron government has targeted some 120,000 families as uniquely dysfunctional and 72,000 of them are headed by single mothers. That’s three times the national average. Read about it here (Telegraph, 3/9/12).
It seems the Tory/Liberal Democratic coalition government was moved to action by last August’s riots in London that destroyed a great deal of property and injured both riot participants and police. By “action,” I mean the Cameron/Clegg government commissioned a study of the matter that will be made public soon.
An official review into the causes of last summer’s riots is expected to highlight the lack of “male role models” for many of the youths arrested in the wake of the widespread disturbances.I never like to say “I told you so,” but, I told you so. It wasn’t long after the riots that the infamous Norgrove Report came out. Norgrove had been charged with conducting a thorough review of family law and recommending changes. He did, but his report stood pat on the issue of fathers’ rights and involvement in children’s lives post-divorce. Against all the odds, against social science, against common sense, against fairness and against the early guesses about what his report would recommend, Norgrove in the end decided that family courts were doing just fine by fathers, thank you.
The riot panel, set up to investigate the problem, is thought to have become frustrated that few details of the family backgrounds of problem children have previously been recorded, despite it being such an important influence on their behaviour.
The issue has now quickly risen up the Prime Minister’s agenda and Downing Street aides believe that family breakdown is one of the most urgent problems facing Britain.
Last night, Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, said: “These troubled families are in total breakdown.
“The absence of a positive father figure is a huge problem and often the fathers who are present have severe drug and alcohol addictions and are not working.
“Clearly we want to work towards a situation where the fathers in these families provide stability, which means getting them back to work, so they can bring in money and be a positive role model to their children.”
The storm of protest over that plainly nonsensical conclusion was enough to see Norgrove’s report tossed into the dustbin of history quicker than most. It’s a good place for it.
But, at the time, I marvelled at how a man who had just witnessed the wholesale breakdown of law and order throughout large areas of London could be so blind as to not connect that with the separation of fathers from children by family courts. I figured that, if the truth were known, we’d find that many of the young men smashing windows, looting stores and setting fires were fatherless.
Now we know the truth and lo and behold, those kids overwhelmingly lack fathers in their lives. I told you so. Now someone tell David Cameron and Nicholas Clegg. Oh, I know that the article says the issue has risen up Cameron’s agenda, but has it? Reading further, we find no indication that he connects fatherless families, family breakdown, the rise of single-mother-headed households or the violent behavior of young males with the practices of family courts. It’s amazing but true.
How is it possible to not see the obvious? Certainly the widespread practice of judges’ giving sole custody of children to mothers and then failing to enforce fathers’ visitation orders isn’t responsible for all family dysfuntion or even all single-mother-headed households. But, if you consider all children between the ages of birth and 18 years, millions of them have divorced parents. And many of those children have little-to-no contact with their fathers for the very reason set out above – the courts make no effort to ensure it. Fully one-third of British children of divorce have no contact with their fathers.
So family court reform, while not the only solution to the problem is surely one of the main ones. And yet, the Cameron government made no mention of family courts when responding to the latest bit of bad news. It knows we need to keep fathers in children’s lives, it believes the issue is important, but it managed to miss what’s glaringly obvious to many people – that family courts make a bad situation far worse.
Note as well the references to “fathers,” “male role models” and “father figures” as interchangeable parts. That betrays a profound ignorance of the exact subject that supposedly has risen so high on David Cameron’s agenda. What is this, 1972? Do these people truly believe that biological fathers are replaceable by boyfriends, male teachers, gang members? Here’s a suggestion for Cameron: read something on the subject of fathers and children’s welfare. Vast amounts of social science tell us that, generally speaking, there is no better male for raising children than their biological father.
But no, from all appearances, the Cameron government is dashing off in the wrong direction.
Last year, David Cameron announced plans for a network of “family troubleshooters” who could be paid thousands of pounds to turn around the problem families.Stated another way, the latest substitute for a father’s love, protection, guidance and discipline is a “family troubleshooter” paid by the state who appears late in the child’s life and exhorts him/her to “not behave anti-socially.” I wonder if there’s anyone anywhere who believes that Cameron’s approach will have any effect whatsoever on the problem of dysfunctional families. I know I don’t.
The new troubleshooters – who are a mixture of charity, council and private sector workers – will receive almost £450 million in taxpayers’ money to help 120,000 troubled families.
They are drawing up a detailed plan with each of the families to turn around their lives, with targets to return parents to work; stop them from drinking or taking drugs; ensure children go to school and do not behave anti-socially.
Stopping the lunacy of family courts separating fathers from children won’t by itself solve the problem, but the problem won’t be solved without doing that. Keeping fathers in children’s lives post-divorce is necessary to any society that wants to be well-ordered and productive with low levels of crime and drug and alcohol abuse, and a decent system of education. We know that. My guess is that David Cameron knows it. The problem seems to be that no elected official can summon the political will to do what needs to be done.