Blog: Why the DFE mustn’t give up on joint birth registration

8 March 2011

Rob Williams writes:  This week we heard that the Department for Education might not bother to go ahead with plans to require Registrars to collect the names of both father and mother when registering a birth. Currently only the baby’s mother needs to be on the certificate. The fathers name is optional with over 30,000 birth certificates being issued each year containing the mothers name only. The most famous recent example being the birth certificate of Ed Milliband’s first child.

The proposals to ensure that both parents feature on a birth certificate are important for the child but also for the rest of us. From the child’s point of view, where the parents are unmarried (as over 50% of new parents are these days) only those parents named on the birth register are granted parental responsibility and have a right to be involved in decisions affecting a child. If the father is not on the certificate a child is left with only one legal parent where there should be two. Children may never find out who their father is and thus be denied a complete sense of where they have sprung from. This is more than a esoteric point. It was considered important enough to know your parents that children were recognised as having this right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which the UK proudly signed up to in 1989.

It is important for the rest of us because we know that children tend to have better childhoods and emerge as more resilient adults if they have a good relationship with both parents, whether or not those parents are living together. The official indifference to the fathers identity goes directly against this government’s agenda about families and individuals taking responsibility for their children and sharing this responsibility together. It also sets off a bureaucratic chain of events which backs up the message that fathers can treat parenting as optional, as health visitors talk to mothers rather than fathers, children centres build their services around bumps and babies clubs, schools fail to record contact details of fathers and, when a young person ends up in court for misbehaviour, Magistrates hand down parenting orders to mothers rather than fathers, even when the father is resident in the household and present in the courtroom.

This government has seen the evidence that children do better if both parents are involved in their upbringing and is actively considering how they can make that happen without straying into nanny state territory..

They should start with issues that are clearly within their control and require registrars and other public servants to take a two parent approach to their official duties. This would be a much stronger message about shared parenting than any number of ministerial speeches.

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One Comment »

  • Paul Bennett-Todd says:

    This is a subject that I feel quite passionate about, because my father was never named on my birth certificate even though he wanted to be, my mother made the choice not to include him. I was subsequently adopted and brought up by my grandparents and had a good life but I have for years tried to find my natural father and so far, have had no luck. My mother would never tell me anything about him, despite my grandparents telling me that he was a lovely man, distraught at the fact that my mother would not marry him and also at the fact that she would not let him see me as a baby. He then dissapeared forever. I can’t blame him really. If his name had been put on my birth certificate then it would be quite easy for me to find him, as there would possibly be more information about him that would help in my quest. As it is, I have alays met brick walls and my hard work has amounted to nothing. In a more modern context, I feel very strongly that excluding the father only fuels the belief that fathers are not important and therefore need not contribute to the upbringing and welfare of their child. When expert research shows that the male and female are only separated by 3% difference and that men are as able to ‘nurture’ as much as the mother, then I think the governmebt should be falling over themselves to bring about this equality, chifly for the childs sake. After all, the government enjoys the wealth generated by the so called ‘Child Support Agency’. So how about positively supporting the child by giving equality to the father? But that doesn’t allow a stealth tax and generation of income for the goverment does it!

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