Please help the campaign for joint birth registration

26 March 2012

We continue to campaign for legislation to bring in joint birth registration, to be enacted – after it emerged last week that Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families, may be blocking this.

We have written to Ms Teather, along with other key supporters of the principle that both parents should be expected, as a default position, to sign the birth certificate – and await a response. Below is the text of the letter. The letter is also now an online petition here: do please sign it!

Dear Sarah,

We write to commend the enactment of legislation that creates a new default for birth registration – that both parents sign, even if they are not married.

There is a consensus amongst those who have led our growing understanding of the important role fathers play in children’s lives that this change would be of considerable symbolic and practical significance. The current arrangement is a throwback to a time when as a society we had not grasped how crucial fathers are to the wellbeing and sense of identity of children. Put simply, it matters whether or not a father (or indeed a mother) is on a child’s birth certificate – and public policy should be framed to take proper account of that. The current law still sees fathers as dispensable in a way that does not apply to mothers – it embodies the low expectations of fathers, particularly in vulnerable families, that are still so much a characteristic of our services and our wider culture. Placing a stronger expectation that fathers should be on their child’s birth certificate except in exceptional circumstances sends a clear and effective message to fathers about the vital responsibilities they have as parents, and gives children a stronger right to have their identity legally recognised. It makes the expectations on mothers and fathers, as expressed in law, equal.

There is ample evidence to show that even very small shifts in expectations of vulnerable fathers can lead to quite remarkable positive changes on their part. A trial in the USA showed that when midwives simply learned and used the names of fathers in vulnerable families, this correlated with them paying more child support. Changes in expectation are highly effective and the change in birth registration would be a game changer in some families. It would also place a duty on all professionals to inform parents about the expectation, so catalysing more substantial engagement with fathers.

There has been much ill-informed talk about the risks this law might pose to mothers from violent men. The previous Government rightly took these concerns very seriously while framing the legislative change. The safeguards that were designed are robust and no mother will be pressured or required to reveal the name of a violent father if she thinks this places her or her child at any risk. Despite exhaustive enquiry, the civil servants who put together the proposals could find no evidence that this system, already operating in some other countries, does anything to increase risks to mothers or children. Indeed, if the question to the mother about the father results in an expression of concern on her part, this opens up the useful possibility of giving her the extra support she may well need.

This change is not about fathers’ rights. It is fundamental in creating a society where we expect more from fathers and where children receive more care and support from their fathers.

We ask that you allow this legislative change to be enacted.

Rebecca Asher, Author of Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality

Adrienne Burgess, CEO, Fatherhood Institute

Matt Buttery, CEO, Family Matters Institute

Judy Dunn, Professor of Developmental Psychology, King’s College London

Dr Hamish Cameron, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist

Leroy Edozien, Consultant Obstetrician, Engaging Partners on Childbirth (EPiC) research project

Duncan Fisher OBE, Social Entrepreneur in family services

Sebastian Kraemer, Honorary Consultant Tavistock Clinic

Michael E Lamb, Professor of Psychology and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College at the University of Cambridge

Charlie Lewis, Professor of Psychology, Lancaster University

Yvonne Roberts, Fellow of The Young Foundation

Karen Woodall, Centre for Separated Families

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