At 9.3 per cent the percentage of lone parent families is higher in Wales than in the UK as a whole where it is 8.4 per cent. The highest percentages are in Blaenau Gwent (11.1 per cent), and Merthyr Tydfil, Caerphilly and Newport – each 10.9 per cent (see Welsh Government statistics here). Do these children see their fathers?
In A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age Layard and Dunn state:
“It is a real worry that in Britain around 28 per cent of all children whose parents have separated have no contact with their fathers three years after the separation” (Children’s Society, 2009).
Explanations are provided in a recent Canadian study which found:
“Sole maternal custody often leads to parental alienation and father absence, and father absence is associated with negative child outcomes. Eighty five per cent of youth in prison are fatherless; 71 per cent of high school dropouts are fatherless; 90 per cent of runaway children are fatherless; and fatherless youth exhibit higher levels of depression and suicide, delinquency, promiscuity and teen pregnancy, behavioural problems and illicit and licit substance abuse” (Edward Kruck, Child Custody, Access and Parental Responsibility University of British Columbia, 2008).
All these are good reasons for keeping the father involved in a child’s life. So it is gratifying to report that, for once Wales is leading the way on a social issue, in this case fatherhood. The Welsh Government has signed up to the United Nations Convention on Children Rights which includes:
“Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests.”
Cardiff has become a lead city on fathers’ involvement with their children through funding Family Connections, a project organised jointly by Families Need Fathers Both Parents Matter Cymru and Women’s Aid. The project brings absent parents back into the children’s lives with referrals from the Social Service Department.
Family Connections is bringing credit to all involved, including the social workers who refer the children. Many fathers claim to have had false allegations made about them in a deliberate attempt by the mother to exclude them, forcing fathers to go through the family courts. Many give up because they can’t afford the legal costs.
When a child knows that s/he is loved by both parents it makes an enormous difference. We need to make it easier for children to see their fathers. Dads need to be encouraged to remain involved in their children’s lives. Above all, we need to send out a clear message to parents that even if they separate, they are for always part of team parent and should put their child’s best interests first.