More Anti-Science on Children’s Overnights with Dads

June 20, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Truly, the anti-dad crowd has no shame. After decades of social science research has demonstrated unequivocally the value of fathers to children, those opposed to children having complete relationships with their dads are now entirely bereft of any legitimate argument for their position. So what do they do? They make stuff up. Indeed, they make stuff up that’s known, and widely publicized, to be false. It doesn’t get more brazen and desperate than that. Here’s the latest (The Telegraph, 6/15/14).

It seems that one Penelope Leach, “one of Britain’s leading childcare experts,” has come out with a book that is frankly at odds with all the social science on the subject of children under the age of five spending overnights with their fathers. Now, as you may recall, there was quite a kerfuffle recently regarding Australian researcher Jennifer McIntosh whose shoddy work was outed by Professors Richard Warshak, Linda Nielsen and 110 of their colleagues from around the world.

In a nutshell, McIntosh had done remarkably bad work that was widely reported to support the notion that overnight visits by a young child with a non-custodial parent were to be generally avoided because the kids suffered anxiety, nervousness, etc. when separated from the custodial parent, i.e. Mom. Her work, despite its known flaws that many scientists pointed out over the years, nevertheless formed the basis for Australian policy on overnights and was cited far and wide to limit fathers’ access to their children in fact and in law.

Then Warshak produced a paper destroying McIntosh’s work that was explicitly supported by 110 of the best scientists in the field from around the globe. And Australian organizations that had previously taken McIntosh’s work at face value sat up and took notice, announcing their intention to alter their recommendations based on the Warshak paper. That all put McIntosh in hot water, who now claims all those people misinterpreted her work, despite the fact that, until the Warshak paper came out, she’d made no effort to disavow their conclusions drawn from her research. Warshak and Nielsen (in a separate paper) revealed just how poor McIntosh’s work was and she has since backpedaled to the completely different position that “Cautions against overnight care during the first three years are not supported.”

So, you’d have thought that the issue had been laid to rest, given the fact that now no one believes that overnights with Dad harm children and that much research suggests the kids benefit from them.

But you’d have been wrong. Penelope Leach has decided to simply ignore all that and go with claims that are utterly unsupported by social science. How does she get around the lack of empirical support for her claims? Simple; she pretends, not only that there is evidence for her position, but, gilding the lily, that there’s no evidence to the contrary. In short, she turns the science on its head.

Separated parents who share the care of their young children and allow them to stay overnight at both of their homes are damaging them, a parenting expert has claimed.

Penelope Leach, one of Britain’s leading childcare experts, said shuttling children backwards and forwards between two homes and allowing them to ‘sleepover’ with the parent they do not normally live with can affect the development of their brains…

Ms Leach, a former president of the National Childminding Association who has written a number of books about caring for children, says allowing under fives to spend a night with one parent when they primarily live with another creates “unhealthy attachment issues.”

She also claims in her latest book, Family Breakdown, that there was “undisputed evidence” that a period of separation from the parent they normally live with – typically their mothers – can adversely affect a child’s brain development.

“Undisputed evidence?” No, Ms. Leach, actually, what evidence there is for that claim is so flawed as to not be taken seriously by scientists not invested in marginalizing fathers in children’s lives.

Now sadly, the Telegraph article, which otherwise is a pretty good one, uses as its counterpoint to Leach, not another social scientist like Warshak, Nielsen or any of those who signed on to Warshak’s paper, but fathers’ rights activists. Those activists made perfectly viable arguments against Leach.

Ian Maxwell, from Families Need Fathers, told the Independent on Sunday that society had moved on from classic attachment theory when bonds between mother and child were seen as the strongest.

He added: “The bond between fathers and children is just as important and we would question the evidence Ms Leach is citing for the primacy of the maternal bond.”

He said her argument did not accord with common sense was described her claims as “worrying.”

But I think all would have been better served if “one of Britain’s leading childcare experts” had been countered by someone who knows the science and was permitted to respond at greater length.

Still, the article’s writer, Claire Carter, didn’t take Leach’s claims lying down.

Leach has previously drawn criticism for her previous bestselling book, Your Baby & Child: From Birth to Age Five, published (sic). In this she claimed only mothers could care properly for their children.

OK, we get it now. Here’s a woman whose track record includes the claim that fathers can’t care properly for their kids. Of course millions of fathers around the world do so every day, and of course the social science on the matter casts no doubt on fathers’ parenting abilities. But apparently Penelope Leach doesn’t much care for science, at least not when it interferes with her cherished notions about mothers and fathers. That tells us all we need to know about Penelope Leach.

Still, since the issue seems to be a hot one, I asked Professors Warshak and McIntosh to comment on Leach’s claims. McIntosh declined to do so, which, given her recent claims to having seen the light on overnights with Dad, I found interesting. Warshak, on the other hand, responded promptly and in considerable detail. I’ll quote his response in its entirety in my next post.


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