Sunday, 22 June 2014

Why plumbing influences 'child experts'?

Why, oh why, is family law still influenced by those who are out of touch with post 1980's parenting and who cling to social models which died a generation ago. I was saddened this week, not at Penelope Leach's book (there's all sorts of questionable material on bookshelves), but the impact she's having on cases. In two cases I'm aware of this week, the mother has snatched at this badly researched work as justification to refuse overnights. The outcome from her latest musings is that, for those parents and I suspect many more (overly-anxious or vexatious litigants), she's consigned them and their children to additional months of litigation.

Firstly, we're not pro-father or mother at The Custody Minefield. We're pro-child welfare and gender neutral (2014 site demographics in the image to the left). We're very proud that we help both mums and dads. We see the importance of both 'attachment figures' (if we must use these sterile terms), and have read volumes of research which inform our opinions. A parent's plumbing is inconsequential when compared to the reality of their parenting ability as people. 

Parenting has changed since Ms Leach's day. The mother will have been the main attachment figure 40 years ago but today, men and women share childcare equally (the last statistics I saw put the difference at only 15 minutes a day for under 5s).[1] This shouldn't be news. These shifts in parenting and early years' attachment have been known for well over a decade! We've known for even longer that even for very young children, overnights have positive benefits rather than scarring children for life.[2] For the majority of children, Ms Leach's proposals would represent a dramatic change to the status quo. Her world doesn't exist for the vast majority of children.

Since the height of Ms Leach's past fame, there's been a marked shift in the role of men and women, not just in childcare, but all aspects of life. Mums now work. Dads work too. Household bills are shared. Childcare is shared. The perfection(?) of the stay at home middle-class Margot is largely gone. Since the 1970s, the level of paternal childcare time has increased 9 fold, so the mother as the "primary" attachment figure has become largely historical, yet still influences the quango committee member on the periphery of family law.[3]

Ms Leach wrongly claims justification for her beliefs by claiming 92% of mothers, at separation, are the primary carer. Not true at all, and whomever courts award 'residence' or its post April 2014 equivalent to, the reality is that the norm is for care to be shared before separation.

Research is quite clear that Ms Leach is out of touch, not just with parenting in this millennium, but with her peer group. Indeed, she's faced more criticism from psychologists than from non-resident parent groups. Professor Charlie Lewis from Lancaster University was one of 100 psychologists who condemned her misrepresentation of research. "The evidence unfortunately does not support her [Leach]," he said. "Metanalyses [reviews combining the results of large numbers of studies] that look at whether or not it is better for the non-resident parent to have contact with the child show that the more contact there is with the non-resident parent, the better the outcome for the child."[4]

Ms Leach said her concern is for children who "are being used as weapons in the marital war when actually they are its victims". She's right to have that concern, but defeats herself by implying there are WMDs in children's nurseries.

The sooner we stop having women's services, men's services, men's experts, women's experts and call men and women parents rather than mums or dads, we'll be a step closer to securing the welfare outcomes that Ms Leach purports to want. We'll remove bias and subjectivity from policy making. True, it will kill a very lucrative industry, but today, it's an industry based on discrimination and bias rather than anything to do with child welfare. Should we expect gender experts to change? Career wise, it's like asking them to shoot themselves in the head. Leave them to their cognitive dissonance.

End Notes
1. ’Working Fathers, Earning and Caring’, Equal Opportunities Commission 2003, London
2.  'Using child development research to make appropriate custody and access decisions for young children', Kelly J B & Lamb M E (2000) Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 39, 297-311.
3. 'Completing the Revolution: The Leading Indications’, Equal Opportunities Commission 2007, London