March 25, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Fathers in Scotland face a hurdle that’s common to dads across the English-speaking world (Herald Scotland, 3/15/18). The Fatherhood Institute there calls it a “data desert.” That is, public policy and the legislative process are hamstrung by a lack of hard data on what actually happens to fathers when they divorce or separate from the mother of their children. Governments fail to collect appropriate data and public policy fails as a result.
The findings of a three year study by the Fatherhood Institute have been presented to MSPs, amid concerns policies are out of touch with the changing role of fathers in the lives of Scottish children.
Rebecca Goldman, Research Associate with the Fatherhood Institute, presented her report Where’s the Daddy? to the new cross party group on shared parenting at the Scottish Parliament.
In Scotland as in the U.S. and elsewhere, fathers are indeed changing their parenting behavior and there as here, law and public policy remain blissfully unaware of the fact. That’s true despite a couple of decades of research demonstrating dads’ expanded role.
But I don’t want readers to conclude that the increased parenting done by fathers is the only – or even the main – reason why policy must change. The simple fact is that children need their fathers. That’s true almost regardless of how much diaper changing, bathing, feeding, etc. a father does. Fathers don’t have to behave like mothers to be of value to their children. Kids form attachments to their fathers equally with their mothers. Public policy that kicks dads to the curb damages those attachments and results in the many personal and social deficits attendant on fatherless children.
So yes fathers are doing more hands-on parenting, but that’s not why public policy needs to change. It needs to change because children’s welfare requires it to do so.
[Goldman] said national datasets such as the Census, Labour Force Survey and Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) often fail to take into account the role of fathers, particularly where children live between households.
Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, Where’s the Daddy? calls for more to be done to reflect the diversity of modern fathering. It says official statistics often fail to distinguish between birth, adoptive or ‘step’ fathers. It also recommends separated fathers should be reclassified in terms of whether they live with their children, and how much of the time, under headings such as full-time co-resident, part-time co-resident or non-resident.
That’s important to many Scottish fathers because government benefits often reflect the assumption that a single father spends no time with his child.
Ian Maxwell, Scottish head of the charity Families Need Fathers, says a father, can be categorised, often unwittingly – as the “non-resident parent” – even if his children live with him up to half of the time.
He claims housing is a classic example of the problems this causes, with many fathers unable to gain overnight care of children if they don’t have space for them – but told by housing providers they don’t qualify for larger homes because they don’t have the care of their children.
As Yossarian so memorably remarked, “That’s some catch, that Catch-22.”
Here in the U.S., we have our own vast expanses of data-absence. Few states keep anything like scrupulous records of parenting time outcomes in family courts. Indeed, judges in Nebraska are resisting a proposed requirement that divorcing parents fill out a simple, one-page form indicating what custody and parenting time orders judges issue. That could be done at virtually no cost to the taxpayer and would provide an easy-to-access dataset showing exactly what family court judges are doing.
Our own data desert then allows opponents of shared parenting to claim that laws promoting shared parenting are unnecessary because judges are granting equal or near-equal parenting time anyway. Those claims are contradicted by the data we do have, but routinely kept statistics on the matter would allow us to track which judges tend to order what type of custody and parenting time and how that changes over time (if it does).
Mr Maxwell added: “A data desert tends to lead to a policy desert. This isn’t just an issue for fathers, it is important for mothers too and above all for the children. There is a mountain of research from around the world that the greater the involvement of both parents the better the life chances of the children.”
Well and accurately said. The same is true across the entire English-speaking world. Knowledge is power and it seems those who resist giving fathers power in divorce courts like us to remain as ignorant as possible.
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