Minister tells public sector to stop discriminating against dads

12 November 2010

Tom Loughton speaks to a packed room at the FI's 11 November conference

Children and families minister Tim Loughton has challenged public sector workers to avoid “passive discrimination” against dads, and get better at developing services that promote their importance.

Speaking at the Fatherhood Institute’s Engaging fathers as partners conference in central London on Thursday (11 November), Mr Loughton warned that “there is still a real risk that dads will continue to be passively discriminated against by public services unless we take action.

“We already know, for instance, that many men are left feeling somewhat disenfranchised by child health and family services. But I’d suggest that it goes a little deeper than that – to the point where we very often forget fathers altogether when we are dealing with family issues.”

He said reversing decades of tradition around the respective roles of mums and dads was “not an easy ask”, but could be achieved, particularly by “ensuring everyone involved in the public sector becomes better promoters and advocates of fathers than has been the case in the past.”

Mr Loughton said many children’s centres are too “mum-centric”, and promised that the Coalition Government will be scrutinising their outcomes and expecting them to work more actively for disadvantaged families, including with dads.

He also called on local authorities to make more use of Family Group Conferences, to bring wider family members together to decide on plans of action for children at risk. These “give vulnerable children, fathers and grandparents far more say over their future” and have saved £11 million in nine areas alone – but are only happening in around 70% of areas, he estimated.

Mr Loughton said the Government will not impose a centralised template on how services should run, but is:

  • looking at how parental leave might be better shared in future so that couples have greater flexibility over child care
  • undertaking a major review of family justice, to consider how the courts manage cases involving children – and how best to support contact between grandparents and non-resident parents (usually fathers)
  • reviewing child protection, to cut down on bureaucracy, thus giving social workers “more reflective time to be able to seek out the non-resident fathers”

He explained that the ‘Big Society’ “is a good opportunity for this kind of work to be taken further and wider, with fathers playing a fuller role in their local communities and being encouraged to get involved in their schools, children’s centres and youth clubs far more than has been the case in the past.”

And he called on everyone in the sector to “think smarter” and pool ideas and knowledge: “There is still a huge amount of scope for local authorities, voluntary agencies, charities and government to share what works, so that fathers are routinely involved in family issues, and so that there are no excuses for not doing so.”