Think-tank urges action to give new borns better start

13 April 2008

Fathers Still ‘Shut Out’ from Birth of their Children, Report Claims

UNDER STRICT EMBARGO UNTIL 00.01 HRS, 14 APRIL 2008

A leading fatherhood think-tank today launches a 12 point action plan over claims that maternity services across the UK are disadvantaging children from birth by ‘shutting out’ their fathers.

The Fatherhood Institute report claims there is a mass of evidence proving the profound extra benefits to child and parents of the father’s active and positive involvement from birth.

But, it adds, while the vast majority of fathers are interested in fulfilling their responsibilities they often get no encouragement or support – particularly if they are young or otherwise disadvantaged. At the same time, the small minority who aren’t interested are not challenged, and are simply allowed to drift away from their obligations.

The report, The Dad Deficit: The Missing Piece of the Maternity Jigsaw, is based on research involving maternity professionals and mothers and fathers over the whole period before, during and after a birth.

Action plan

The report’s 12 point action plan calls for:

• All mothers and fathers to be allowed to stay together overnight on postnatal wards

• Change in birth registration practice so that both parents sign the birth certificate in 25,000 more families a year – through introduction of an Australian-style (non compulsive) enquiry system when a father does not sign birth certificate

• Professional training for midwives to include engagement with fathers; and a national programme of free study days on this topic

• Maternity services to allow and encourage fathers to be present for doctor’s ward round and when support is given on baby care skills

• Clear NHS definition of the father’s role at birth

• Co-ordinated Government programme to give targeted antenatal support to young mothers and vulnerable fathers.

Fatherhood Institute CEO Duncan Fisher said: “Research clearly shows that the positive involvement of fathers right from the start is crucial; and that when professionals engage with fathers, particularly young or otherwise vulnerable dads, this makes a huge difference to mother and baby.

“What actually happens now is that while the mother’s responsibilities are reinforced at every opportunity, the first message many fathers get after the birth is: ‘leave this place now!’ The father needs to be held as responsible as the mother for their child’s wellbeing, which means staff taking every opportunity to inform, help or challenge him (as they do with mothers) rather than brushing him aside. As one dad said: ‘Being a father, you don’t get anything at the hospital. They don’t say “well, if you smoke have a read of this”. There’s nothing in that respect’.

“Currently, we don’t ask questions if a father fails to show for the ante natal appointment or doesn’t sign the birth certificate. If things are going to change, we have got to start sending both mums and dads some very different signals.”

Why engaging fathers matters

The Dad Deficit highlights research which reveals that:

• Educating fathers as well as mothers on how to achieve a healthy pregnancy is likely to achieve the greatest positive impact on family health.

• Maternity services aimed at dads are discretionary and are not systematically engaging with them.

• 70% of men and women agree that dads should be able to stay overnight in hospital with their partner when their baby is born.

• 45,000 men in the UK don’t sign the birth certificate when their child is born (equivalent to 7% of all births – and double the rate in Australia) and a simple change in the questions asked of parents at birth registration is likely to reduce this statistic substantially.

While 86% of fathers now attend the birth of their child, the report also shows that many still feel excluded at the birth and can be literally shut out when visiting time is over.

One father quoted in the report says: “It always seemed to be three o’clock in the morning when I left the hospital after the birth of one of my children . . . You wander aimlessly through those night streets until you arrive at home, or some other destination that ought to have meaning. But the real meaning is locked away in a bed in a ward in a building where you are not welcome.”

The Dad Deficit calls for a total of 12 key changes to involve fathers more fully and so improve the overall health of the family. These include: registration of fathers by maternity services; NHS guidance on father-inclusion; information for fathers explaining their role in smoking, breastfeeding, alcohol, mental health and baby health, dealing with relationship stress and conflict and the impact of violence in the family. 

To download The Dad Deficit and Maternal and infant health in the perinatal period: the father’s role, right click on their titles under RELATED DOCUMENTS (below), choose ‘Save Target As . . .’ and the pdfs should download quickly.

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