Absent fathers – another view on SVP remarks

The very important remarks of SVP regional head Brendan Delaney on absent fathers again highlight the importance of children having both their mother and their father. Why are they absent? In some cases it is because the father wants nothing to do with his children. In other cases the mother doesn’t want him to have anything to do with them. In other cases still, social support agencies actively discourage fathers from having a proper relationship with their children.

This last category was highlighted by a report published in 2004 called ‘Strengthening Families Through Fathers’. It was carried out by by Professor Harry Ferguson, of the University of the West of England, and Mr Fergus Hogan, of Waterford Institute of Technology, on behalf of the Family Support Agency. It studied vulnerable fathers and their relationship with family support services.

The report was scathing about the social welfare system in terms of its interaction with fathers. It found “that the overall orientation of welfare systems to exclude men is so powerful that even in cases of inclusive practice clear evidence emerged of men’s exclusion.”

It recommended an overhaul of the family law and social welfare systems to make them more father-friendly. It found them to be biased against the inclusion of men in family support and assessment work. In other words, when social services went to assist a family they did not see fathers as part of the solution even when the fathers wished to become involved.

The study, in which 24 men, 10 mothers and 11 children were interviewed, found that the system leaves many men feeling excluded, even though they expressed a desire to have a role in their children’s lives.

It found that fathers were extremely frustrated and angry at the way support agencies overlooked them, and that some social workers held negative attitudes towards fathers. Some social workers were reported as saying that men were difficult or dangerous, that there was enough work to be done with the mothers and that there needed to be obvious benefits to working with men.

The report said that “The dynamics of such exclusion took many forms, the most common and powerful of which was a view of men as dangerous, non-nurturing beings.”

According to the study, social workers generally expected mothers to carry the load, “leaving the potential resource fathers have to offer largely untapped”.

The above indicates that the problem of absent fathers, while very real and very tragic, has multiple causes and all of them need to be considered in any analysis of the problem.