Joint birth registration on its way: a victory for children, dads and the FI

20 June 2012

The Government has agreed to trial changes in the way births are registered, so as to capture details of both parents in all but the most exceptional cases.

The move, announced in the Daily Telegraph on Father’s Day, comes after several months’ behind-the-scenes lobbying by the Fatherhood Institute and other influential voices, including former FI chief executive Duncan Fisher OBE, keen to see joint birth registration become a reality. This included a letter to Children and Families Minister Sarah Teather – who had blocked the enactment of joint birth registration, despite it already being on the statute books as part of the 2009 Welfare Reform Act – a legislative change for which the Fatherhood Institute has campaigned long and hard (often as a lone voice and in the face of opposition from other quarters).

Currently, whilst a mother is always recorded on the birth certificate, the father is only recorded if the mother consents – either by marrying him or, if they are not married, by consenting to his signing the birth certificate.

Joint birth registration matters for various reasons. First, if the father is not on the certificate, some children may never find out who their father is and thus be denied a complete sense of where they have sprung from. This is contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which the UK signed up to in 1989) because we don’t go ‘as far as possible’ to ensure children’s parentage is recorded.

Secondly, where parents are unmarried (as over 50% of new parents are), only those parents named on the birth register are currently granted Parental Responsibility and thereby have a right to be involved in decisions affecting a child – for example what school they go to, whether their name is changed, or whether they should undergo medical treatment

Thirdly, in a more general sense 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. Official indifference to fathers’ identity goes directly against the principle of 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 what they perceive to be mothers’ (rather than families’) needs, 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.

The Fatherhood Institute is now preparing to work with the Government and others to ensure that the joint birth registration trial operates in such ways that children’s right to know the identity of their father is properly protected – where necessary supporting mothers to understand the importance of registering fathers, and also providing an appropriate, safe response for the small number of mothers who may fear risk or harm to themselves or the child if steps were taken to contact the father.

We have published widely on the issue of joint birth registration:

Blog: Why the DFE must not give up on joint birth registration (2011)

Joint Birth Registration – A briefing on the Welfare Reform Bill (2009)

Joint Birth Registration – A Fatherhood Institute Analysis (responding to the Government’s White Paper – 2008)

Birth registration and parental responsibility – a discussion paper (Fathers Direct – 2007)





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