UKs four Childrens Commissioners unite in making call for a national debate on fatherhood

22 January 2006

Contact: Peter Clarke, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, 01792 765600

Jack O’Sullivan, Fathers Direct 07779 65558/ 01608 737125

The rights and views of children to good parenting are often being lost in acrimonious conflicts around fatherhood and motherhood, warn the Children’s Commissioners of the United Kingdom today.

The Commissioners, who are the UK’s independent representatives of children’s interests, call for a public debate on these issues that place the needs of children at the heart of the discussion.

The statement follows the issuing of advice recently by a number of government departments, notably the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills, to maternity services, children’s services and schools to support positive involvement of fathers in the lives of their children.

The Commissioners’ statement will open a high level roundtable meeting entitled Fatherhood – The Child’s Perspective in Westminster tomorrow, Tuesday, 24 January. The roundtable involves MPs from all parties, senior government figures, including the Children’s Minister, Beverley Hughes, plus academics and policy makers on how best to support the needs that children have of their fathers. Among the speakers will be the Children’s Commissioners of England, Scotland, and Wales. Michael Lamb, Professor of Social and Developmental Psychology at Cambridge University and the acknowledged world expert on the impact of fathers on child development, will also speak.

In their statement, the four commissioners – Professor Al Ansley-Green (England), Kathleen Marshall (Scotland), Peter Clarke (Wales) and Nigel Williams (Northern Ireland), welcome the roundtable, the first of a series of such government-backed brainstorming discussions on fatherhood. They say:

“As you would expect, we are firmly focused on the rights and welfare of children and in particular their rights as expressed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We are aware that the views and rights of children are often lost in the highly contested arena of parenting, fatherhood and motherhood. We believe that a public debate on these issues needs to take place and that it must keep the needs of the child at its heart.”

Peter Clarke, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, adds:

“More personally, I believe that it is very difficult to have a public debate about fathers and fathering without being drawn into polarised positions. Discussion conventionally gravitates to debate about the respective rights of mothers and fathers; advocating that fathering is important is almost always seen as adopting a stance critical of mothers in general or single mothers in particular. The converse also applies. Other commentators question the relevance of gendered definitions of parents at all.

“What do the children think? What does the research tell us? I believe our discussions must be informed by these things rather than any ideological pre-dispositions. Nor can we just decide the whole set of issues is too difficult. Parenting and the roles of fathers and mothers are too important matters to and for our children to allow that.

“Let us have this debate in an atmosphere of respectful honesty. Our children deserve that and we should not let them down.”

Duncan Fisher, chief executive of Fathers Direct, the national information centre on fatherhood, said:

‘We warmly welcome the decision of Britain’s key children’s representatives to take the lead in initiating a public discussion of fatherhood. The activities of Fathers For Justice, which has thankfully now disbanded, led to a disastrous focus on men’s rights, resulting in conflict and confusion.

‘The UK now has four Children’s Commissioners representing the rights of children, posts created precisely because our society tends to overlook the needs of children. We hope that a new, invigorated debate, dealing with both good and bad fatherhood, will beled by the Commissioners, children’s charities and others representing children. It must be well-grounded in research and best practice, so providing proper focus on the needs that children have of their fathers.’

The roundtable will be held on 24 January 2006, 9.30am -12pm at The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, 1 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1 Y 5DB. It is co-hosted by Fathers Direct with the National Children’s Bureau, Children in Scotland, Children in Wales and the Parents Advice Centre Northern Ireland.

Research shows that where fathers doing a good job with them children are more likely to:

Excel at school (doing better at examinations at 16)
Stay out of trouble (less likely to have a criminal record at 21)
Grow into balanced, well-adjusted adults (enjoy better mental health in adult life and find it easier to make life-long relationships.)

Notes to Editors:

· Fatherhood – The Child’s Perspective will be held on 24 January 2006, 9.30am -12pm at The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, 1 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1 Y 5DB It is the first of several seminars looking at modern fatherhood and is organised by Fathers Direct in partnership with the National Children’s Bureau, Children in Scotland, Children in Wales and the Parents Advice Centre Northern Ireland. Three of the four Children’s Commissioners of the UK will be present as well as Rt Hon Beverley Hughes MP, Minister for Children and Young People.

Fathers Direct is the national information centre on fatherhood, an independent charity founded in 1999 to promote close and positive relationships between men and their children. It publishes the awarding-winning site and provides training, conferences, guides and briefings on fatherhood. Media inquiries: Jack O’Sullivan 01608 737125/ 07779 655585

Fathers Direct, Herald House, Lambs Passage, Bunhill Row, London EC1Y 8TQ.

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