LONDON, December 18, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Teenaged fathers are “marginalised” and their needs are often ignored by government agencies dedicated to fostering the welfare of children, a report from the UK’s largest children’s charity has said. Most of the attention of social agencies, it said, has focused on young mothers, while fathers are being left out of the picture.
Produced by the charity Barnardo’s with support from the Department of Education, the report calls for greater attention to young fathers and efforts to keep them involved in their children’s lives and the lives of their “partners.”
Jonathan Rallings, Barnardo’s assistant director of policy and research, said in a media release, “For too long dads have been treated either as optional extras or completely invisible by mother-centred family services.”
They “want to play their part in bringing up their children,” he said. “However, they all too often receive the message that they’re worthless from services that ignore or marginalise them from the point of pregnancy onwards.”
“Even some services which appear to be father-friendly can attempt to make men behave more like mothers rather than encouraging a separate identity and role for fathers in their own right,” the report said. “The most successful family policies recognise that dads are both important and different from mothers.”
The total number of under-18 conceptions in England was 32,552 in 2010. The report points out, however, that no statistics are kept about teenage fathers, and local authorities do not collect data on the number of young fathers in school.
Boys who become fathers as teenagers are reportedly three times more likely than non-fathers to fail to complete secondary education, and also tend to be far less satisfied with their educational experience. Teenage fathers are more likely to be “not in education, employment or training” than their peers.
“Too often services see the father through the prism of his relationship with the mother and not his relationship with the child,” the report said. “Fathers need to be encouraged to see their relationship with their baby as something to nurture, separate to their relationship with the mother.”
The report, sponsored by a variety of charity groups for young men and teenaged fathers, pushes hard for more cooperation between government and the “family voluntary sector.”
The report includes stories of several young teen fathers, illustrating the obstacles they face to maintaining relationships with their children, including in some cases opposition from the child’s mother and maternal grandparents. It includes the harrowing stories, only too familiar to readers of Britain’s tabloids, of what can happen to young people under the current social service rules.
The report tells the story of “Nick” who was a father at 17 while still at school, who “became isolated and depressed” when the baby’s mother refused to allow him to see his child. Entanglements with government social agencies and family courts led to the young mother being granted social housing that excluded Nick because of his age, while leaving her to cope with raising the child alone. After the mother, isolated from the father of her child, started drinking, the child was “taken into care” by social services.
Nick was able to settle his living situation and started the process of disengaging his child from foster care with the help of a voluntary men’s organisation, Working With Men, who helped him gain access to legal services.
Rallings said that for young fathers to be properly involved in their children’s lives, they “need the same kind of support as teen mums. This includes easily accessible parenting advice, help with housing and special timetabling for training and study.
“We are calling on local authorities to help lead a cultural shift in family care, by introducing practices across their services that universally support young dads’ journeys into fatherhood.”
The report recommends more interaction between schools, social services, criminal justice agencies and “voluntary sector” organizations. Voluntary groups, it says, can offer “support, mentoring, advice” and services like legal referrals to young men who want to combine fatherhood with furthering education and job goals. The most successful groups, it says, are those are run by young men to focus on the needs of fathers separately from that of the mothers.
Local councils, the report added, must “take a whole family approach” to enable young parents to establish their own households.
Young men, the report says, have been found to “respond well to advice from other fathers their own age, who are able to convey their own experiences”. In many local areas, young fathers have set up peer support groups and help young men maintain contact with other young fathers, as well as children’s centres in which they are held.