Treat fathers as part of the family, says Fatherhood Institute

3 February 2009

In its response to the Good Childhood Inquiry, published by the Children’s Society on 2 February 2009, the Fatherhood Institute said:

“The Fatherhood Institute thoroughly endorses the Good Childhood Inquiry in recognising the importance of fathers to children and the impact they have on their development. We are also pleased that this is not just about separated families, but about how fathers are engaged at every stage in their children’s lives – even from before they are born.

"But if real change is to be delivered, policymakers and society must begin treating fathers as part of families, rather than as individuals without family responsibilities. Too often this is how they are regarded: by employers; by health and education services (which may actively exclude them or treat them as “optional extras”); and by the housing and benefits systems (which do not provide them with support for their parenting role and, instead, treat them as if they are single, childless individuals).

"As parents and children operate in an ever-more complex world, it is heartening to realise just what an excellent job many mothers and fathers are doing. And often, where parenting isn’t so positive, minor adjustments (such as can be learned through parenting courses) can make a huge difference. Managing feelings is key. The Good Childhood Inquiry found that children who spent 18 hours being taught to manage their own feelings and how to understand and care for others, did better academically and were half as likely to experience depression over the next three years. Similarly, fathers who learn to “coach” their young children emotionally through the inevitable sadness, anger, confusion and pain that all must face even in the best of childhoods, set them up for life.

"We know that some dads will need special encouragement to reflect on their own parenting (they are less likely than mums to believe that parenting skills can be learned). We also know that 23% of children live in stepfamilies (more than live in single parent households) and that stepfathers are an important influence. For example, a stepfather’s impact (for good or bad) on his stepchild’s self-esteem is greater than that of the child’s own mother, living in the same household.

"This kind of knowledge is critical as we work with government, with services, with mothers and fathers, and with members of their wider families, to equip them with the skills to deliver what all children need to enjoy a really good childhood.”

To hear Fatherhood Institute Research Manager Adrienne Burgess on the Tuesday 3rd February edition of BBC Radio 4’s Call You and Yours, talking about the importance of fathers in the context of the Good Childhood Inquiry, click here and follow the link to ‘Listen Again’.