Thursday, 11 August 2011

Riots and a lack of discipline... are the courts the solution, or part of the problem?

I notice that David Cameron has commented recently on a lack of discipline and problems caused by the fatherless society and a wish to tackle 'Broken Britain'.

Depending on the research you go by, between 25% and 60% of non-resident parents lose contact with their children within two years of separation (the figure of 60% came from Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss when President of the Family Courts). In the past two years, I have answered more than 2,500 questions from non-resident parents on the forums for the UK's leading shared parenting charity, Families Need Fathers and see a common trend, an example of which is given below.

I had a case not too long ago where the child refused to see their father because the father wished to take the child to see their grandparents on a Sunday and the child wanted to play on their X-Box. Cafcass became involved, and the Cafcass Officer said that at 11, the child could make up its own mind. I suggested the father ask the Cafcass Officer if it would similarly be acceptable for an 11 year old child to 'decide' they didn't want to go to school. This apparently caused a degree of cognitive dissonance in the 'welfare professionals' involved.

Scenarios like this are not uncommon, and I see them far too often. The courts regularly fail to enforce orders if a resident parent refuses to comply. Minor disputes between a child and non-resident parent (often over matters related to normal discipline) become blown out of proportion.

The term 'parental alienation syndrome' is often incorrectly used. The problem isn't a syndrome, but one of too many resident parents failing to exercise parental control (often selfishly), their refusal to comply with court orders, and then the courts failing to enforce orders. A culture has grown up where a child's wishes and feelings are considered to the exclusions of their needs (part of which are accepting boundaries), and similarly, the resident parent knowing that the courts are unlikely to enforce orders. There is little to encourage a resident parent to comply (if they decide their life is made more simple with their ex-partner not having a role in the children's lives).

If Mr Cameron wants absent fathers more involved, and there are a large number who want to be but are excluded against their will, the Government needs to reinforce in statute that both parents have a meaningful role in their children's upbringing. The culture in Cafcass and the Family Courts needs to change. In 2006, Mr Justice Munby said that the courts were 'impotent' when it came to enforcing contact orders. While the Government brought in the Children and Adoption Act and new measures to enforce contact, these are often not applied (in my experience... having read the pleas for help from many non-resident parents - and my site now being visited some 140,000 times so far this year).

Worth reading is the research from Professor Kruk concerning the impact of fatherlessness - (academic research supporting my view).The research comes from the University of British Columbia, and is the widest ranging study in this area. The full report is 101 pages, with over 100 pages of references. The 9 page executive summary is also available. The report highlights that: Sole maternal custody often Linkleads to parental alienation and father absence, and father absence is associated with negative child outcomes, higher levels of delinquency, teen pregnancy, drug addiction etc... all the social ills that Mr Cameron hopes to defeat (yet perversely, comes as a result of normal outcomes from the family courts).

Rarely I meet a 'feckless father'. Most 'absent fathers' are disenfranchised, and failed by the courts, and not absent through choice. The main casualties are their children, and later, society, as we've seen this week.

There's a shared parenting bill coming before Parliament. Will Mr Cameron support it... and help redress the culture of fatherlessness that plays its part in our fractured society? Details of the bill can be found at mention it to your MP!