Why It's Time to Stop This Demonising of Dads; in the First of a Provocative and Incisive New Series, Yvonne Roberts - Who Has Written on Social Policy and the Public Sector for More Than 30 Years - Challenges the Social Care Profession to Stop Excluding Fathers from Family Life

Article excerpt


FATHERHOOD is in fashion - and not just among the fans of Posh and Becks. Many of those involved in social policy, are challenging the traditional image of the father as the fount of all evil, and recognising the importance of a modern David Beckhamstyle Daddy Cool. Yet, sadly, no matter how refined the theories, when it comes to real life, fathers are still likely to find themselves drowning in a sea of professional negativity when they seek to become more involved with their children. So, how to make a change?

A research paper, What Good Are Dads? (which should have more accurately been entitled, What Good Are Good Dads?) published three years ago by Professor Charlie Lewis, of Lancaster University, examined 700 reports spanning 20 years. It concluded that where fathers are involved, breastfeeding is more successful, postnatal depression is reduced, children do better in examinations and they are less likely to have a criminal record at 21.

For those in social care, there are two separate but overlapping challenges. The first is that the entire child-welfare infrastructure is posited on the belief that it is the mother who is the main carer. Walk into a family centre, for instance, or any satellite of social services or childcare and invariably, there are no posters showing men as carers; few leaflets which employ the pronoun "he", and an assumption that the father, if he is around, takes orders rather than shares in the decisions.

Attitudes, images and vocabulary matter. It is discrimination on a massive scale. Excluding men also reinforces the message for boys that caring is women's work.

Sometimes, such practice happens because the main experience a professional has had, is that of men behaving worse than badly.

Often, though, the prejudice is unconscious.

In a report, published as part of last week's Men in Childcare theme, for National Childcare Week, Charlie Owen, of the Thomas Coram Research Unit in London, referred to a study of men (more often a solitary man) working in nurseries. The female staff treated their male co-worker as a handyman and someone they could boss around, and instruct how to do it right. Yet, when asked, the female staff expressed the view that the male employee was treated no differently. …