The All Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood has been relaunched. I was fortunate to attend the relaunch event at the House of Commons. During the session, the Group’s chair, David Lammy MP, made a couple of bold promises and a fascinating research project was unveiled.
I appreciate that many readers may not be aware of the APPG. With that in mind, I thought I would outline the background to the Group, why it was relaunched and reveal why the event’s announcements were significant.
What is the APPG on Fatherhood?
The Group is made up of politicians from across the political spectrum. It was launched five years ago by Lammy, a political big-hitter who held senior ministerial rank in the Blair Government. The Group facilitates discussion about fatherhood issues with the aim of making sure fatherhood and dads are considered when new laws and policies are formed.
It works with a number of interested parties. In particular it receives support from Working With Men, a London-based charity that works with boys and men who are socially or economically disadvantaged, marginalised or isolated.
The APPG on Fatherhood does have a website. You can find it here, although Lammy said it will be revamped and relaunched (at the time of writing the site did need updating).
The APPG on Fatherhood aims to. . .
In layman’s terms, it is to make sure that father’s interests are represented when new laws are made or new social policies are created. A classic example is how social workers or midwifes treat men.
The APPG’s formal stated aim is;
“To promote the wellbeing of children by ensuring that legal and policy frameworks keep up with the changing nature of family life and that legislation encourages active and responsible fatherhood.”
Why relaunch the APPG?
Earlier this year there was a general election and this changed the political map of the UK substantially. There was a need to update the APPG’s membership so that it reflects the political landscape.
The relaunch essentially served three purposes;
- A clarion call to interested MPs to come forward and join the group
- It was an opportunity for Lammy to outline what he considered the APPG’s priorities and
- The event was also a call to action for those working in public services to ensure their work is inclusive of fathers (see the point below about the new research project).
What are the relaunched APPG’s priorities?
Lammy made clear his desire to rectify the “birth certificate issue.” In a bold statement, he said; “I make it my aim to win this in 2016.”
The issue he mentions is an interesting one. Under UK law, a woman can register a birth without having the father’s name placed on the birth certificate. This leaves him with reduced legal rights to his child.
It can be used as a weapon in the case of a relationship break-up or if there is some other issue between mother and father. If the man wishes to be an engaged father, he must then establish paternity which can be a lengthy, burdensome and expensive process.
There is an argument that women should have the right not to acknowledge the father. The consensus elsewhere is that this is the wrong approach and that the rights of the child should trump anything else. In addition to this, the current rules make it easier for unscrupulous fathers to shirk their responsibilities.
Other nations have already taken action to tackle this thorny issue. To give two examples, in both Norway and the Republic of Ireland, paternity must be acknowledged. In both cases, as in other countries, the father’s details have to be placed on the birth certificate by law.
This isn’t the only issue Lammy wishes the APPG to tackle. He also wants to focus on young fathers to ensure they receive the support and help they need to be engaged with their families and a positive influence on their children.
New research project launched
The event was also used to announce the launch of a new research project. It will be led by Dr Gavin Swann, head of children’s safeguarding at Croydon Council.
During the relaunch, Dr Swann, who has a long track record of working in social care and dealing with troubled or disadvantaged families, gave a fascinating speech. He outlined simple steps that can be taken to ensure fathers from such backgrounds remain engaged with their children.
I could have listened to him all day. He didn’t mince his words, he spoke frankly and honestly about the fact men can sometimes be unsupportive. Even so, he acknowledged that support for fathers can be very thin on the ground and this contributes to the issue.
This project will seek to prove the economic burden on local authorities can be reduced if they intervene early and encourage troubled fathers to be engaged with their families. The research will primarily take place in Croydon and has the support of the APPG on Fatherhood and Working With Men.
Dr Swann said existing research proved the likelihood of a man staying engaged with his offspring is greatly increased if he attends the child’s birth. He also said that local authorities often fail to appreciate the value of extended family members when their is a serious breakdown in relationships. Local authorities, he claimed, frequently put children into care when a grandparent of someone else is willing to raise or foster a child.
If there are signs that a man won’t be an engaged father, he said the man’s maternal grandmother is often a very good person to speak to. For some reason, if she can be bought on board to engage with her grandson, he will often turn out to be better father.
The one point Dr Swann made loud and clear, however, was that social workers must engage with fathers. He said they very often fail to do so simply because they have pre-conceived, negative ideas about dads. If they can get over this, he said, the outcome for all involved is often much better.
Wishing the APPG on Fatherhood the best of luck
In the months to come there will clearly be some changes as new members of the Group come on board. The APPG has some important aims and with so many groups representing women’s issues, it is good to see fatherhood and related men’s issues receiving recognition in Parliament. I wish the APPG on Fatherhood the best of luck and will be watching with interest as it develops.
What do you think? Do you think this Parliamentary group serves an important purpose? What issues would you like to see it focus on?