UK: Panel on Riots Gets it Wrong on Fathers and Children

April 4th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The British Riots Communities and Victims Panel has completed its report into last year’s riots that swept many towns and cities.  Here it is.  Astonishingly, it remarks on the great value of fathers to children and the possibility that stronger father/child bonds could play a role in reducing civil unrest, but never once takes on the role of family courts in separating fathers from children.  Into the bargain, it embraces the Cameron/Clegg government’s initiative to provide services to at risk families while admitting that those families may have had little to do with the rioting.

In short, the panel’s report is a paean to ever-greater governmental intrusion into family life.  It ignores the government’s role in fatherlessness via the family courts while promoting more and more “services” to those families it has so successfully helped to break up.  It’s a win-win for governmental power; what the panel’s recommendations will do to help children connect with their fathers remains to be seen, but they leave intact the many depredations of family courts.

Perhaps the best indicator of the panel’s approach to fathers comes from the cover page to the section entitled “Children and Parents.”  It’s a photograph of a happy mother reading to her happy daughter, with no dad in sight.  It’s th ekind of thing that would be unbelievable if it weren’t so common.  To what sort of mind does it make sense, when putting together the section on “Children and Parents,” to exclude the father from the picture?  I suppose the answer is, “the sort of mind that thinks it’s acceptable for courts to give custody to mothers in 90% of cases and then refuse to enforce the fathers’ meager visitation.”  If fathers aren’t important to you, why include one in the photo?  The message is clear.

Now, the panel did solicit information on the value of fathers to children.

Practitioners have highlighted to us the positive and supportive role a child’s wider family members can make, such as non-resident fathers, siblings and grandparents. For example, children with positive attachment and engagement with their fathers (resident or non-resident) tend to have:
––more positive friendships with better-adjusted children;
––fewer behavioural problems;
––lower criminality and substance abuse;
––higher educational achievement;
––greater capacity for empathy;
––non-traditional attitudes to earning and childcare;
––more satisfying adult sexual partnerships; and
––higher self-esteem and life-satisfaction.

At which point they drop the topic almost completely.  In case the panel didn’t notice, the above attributes of children with actively-involved fathers aren’t likely to be shared by rioters.  And since identifying the cause of the riots and their future prevention was the specific task of the panel, you’d think the issue of how to keep fathers and children connected would have been uppermost in their minds.  But no. 

The few references to fathers that are scattered throughout the panel’s report make it clear that fathers aren’t to be trusted.  Although the report suggests “contacting fathers” when a child is at risk, that’s almost always prefaced by a phrase like, “where it is in the best interests of the child to do so,” or “where it is safe to do so…”  The none-too-subtle suggestion is that one should exercise the greatest caution when involving fathers in their children’s lives.  I’m sure most family court judges would enthusiastically agree.  The idea, supported by much social science, that for the most part, biological fathers are per se good for kids, appears nowhere in the panel’s report.

That’s despite the fact that 56% of the Youth Offending Teams (YOTS) the panel contacted (over 900 total), rated social services efforts to involve fathers with their children as either “Bad or Very Bad.”  In other words, those who deal with children and parents daily see that the various programs already in place do little to involve fathers.  So the panel knew that, but was content to recommend at best cautious efforts to contact fathers who’ve in some way already been identified as “in the best interests of children.”

Given that, in the panel’s words, ”research shows that practitioners and policy-makers usually approach father-child relationships at best casually and at worst with hostility,” you might think the panel would recommend ways to overcome that.  But again, no.  According to the panel, the hostility of social workers and policy makers to father-child relationships opens the door, not to more father-friendly policies, but to more father surrogates.  For them, the absence of fathers necessitates greater involvement of “communities,” “community volunteers” and “mentors,” anyone it seems, but the fathers themselves.

Now, it is true that, in one appendix at the back of the report, the panel suggests giving “support and guidance” to “fathers at risk of losing contact with their children.”  But if you thought, as I did, that that surely would include providing legal counsel to fathers who are being denied their visitation rights, think again.  There’s no mention that any such provision was even considered.

In the end, the panel’s report does what we’ve come to expect: it recognizes the value of fathers to children, but recommends nothing that would actually promote father/child connection.  Yes, there are a few half-hearted suggestions that social services and schools should contact fathers of children who seem to be anti-social, but they’re couched in language that makes it clear that fathers are to be approached with caution because, contrary to previous statements, it may not be “safe” or “in the child’s best interests” to do so.

Put simply, if every single recommendation of the panel were put into action, there would still be family breakdown, huge numbers of fatherless children and all the social dysfunction that goes with them.  As long as policy makers manage to ignore the facts about the value of fathers to children, we’ll continue to throw vast sums of money at programs that don’t work because they perpetuate the most signifcant cause of social decay – fatherless children.

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