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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