What are we doing about ‘fatherlessness’?

26 June 2014

Jeremy Davies writes: Tanya Gold wrote this thoughtful piece about a vulnerable mother selling The Big Issue on the streets of London. Few could fail but be moved by the situation in which Anna, a Moldovan with two small children to support, finds herself. All credit to Ms Gold for doing what she could to help. But as I read the piece I found myself returning to this sentence:

Their father has gone, she told me, and she is now a single mother.

The questions this raises for me go something like this:

  • How ‘gone’ is this father?
  • What is anyone doing, for the sake of Anna’s children (and Anna herself), if not for him, to address his apparent absence?
  • What do we do as a society to create the universal expectation that fathers will stick around and play a full part in their children’s upbringing, sharing full parental responsibility – as breadwinners, yes (as parents we all have a responsibility to provide for our children), but also for hands-on caring (why should Anna be the only one to look after them or organise for someone else to do so?)
  • How do the services and structures that surround families (maternity services, birth registrars, early years services, child protection, etc) support fathers’ (as well as mothers’) involvement?

Two years ago we produced a white paper called Addressing Fatherlessness. Despite wide circulation among journalists, policymakers and politicians, its common sense recommendations have so far fallen on deaf ears. For Anna’s sake, for the sake of her children, and yes – even, perhaps, for the sake of her children’s father – it’s time to look again.

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