Could Do Better

dad and kidsDespite the more positive facts about Scottish fathers - men living in Scotland are the most 'hands-on' fathers in the UK, e.g. more than 65 per cent of Scottish fathers change their baby's nappies once a day or more - one fifth higher than the UK average of 43 per cent and the fact that Scottish fathers are also most likely to watch their babies being born (The ESRC Millennium Cohort Study, 2003), the Scottish Government has had little to say about fathers and fatherhood. A report just out from Children in Scotland has commented that “engagement with fathers across child and family services in Scotland is sporadic”[1] .

Perhaps it’s because Scottish fathers have had precious little good press. From John Burnside to Robert Burns, men are often depicted as domestic tyrants or, in the case of Burns, having a casual approach to paternity. The dark and lowering presence of the faither looms large in Scottish literature:

"Those Scottish fathers. Not for nothing their wives cried, not for nothing their kids. Cities of night above those five o’clock shadows. Men gone way too sick for the talking. And how they lived in the dark for us now. Or lived in our faces, long denied" (Andrew O’Hagan, Fathers, 1999).

This notion of Scottish fathers and, more specifically the behaviour attributed to them, might go some way to explaining why comparison between Scottish and English government approaches to encouraging good fathering reveals a virtual official silence on the matter in Scotland and suggests that attitudes to fathers, at a deeper cultural and societal level, may be holding us back from developing a sound set of family policies that include fathers.

The English Minister of State for Children, Young People and Families raised the bar early in 2008 when she said:

"I want to see a revolution in how teachers, midwives, doctors, early years and all children’s services staff routinely talk to and provide opportunities for the involvement, not only of mothers, but also fathers from pregnancy and right through childhood and adolescence" (Beverley Hughes, 8 January 2008)

A quick look at English legislative, regulatory and policy moves shows that, compared with Scotland, Hughes’ call to arms is part of a substantially greater official effort to reach out to fathers and help involve them more in the lives of their children. I know that comparisons are odious but…a recent piece of research has compiled a comprehensive record of the various English legislative, policy and other references that concern fathers. It shows that at national ‘top level policy’ (Green and White papers, policy statements and reviews and strategy papers) there is an explicit and consistent recognition of and support for fathers, e.g.:

'Children benefit from strong relationships with their father, but public services routinely fail to engage with fathers (and particularly non-resident fathers). The Department of Children, Schools and families will work with the children’s Workforce Development Council and the National Academy of Parenting Practitioners to ensure occupational standards and training reflect the need to engage with fathers (except where there is a clear risk to the child in doing so)' (The Children’s Plan: Building Brighter Futures, DCSF, 2007 in A Review Of How Fathers Can Be Better Recognised And Supported Through DCSF Policy, Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2008).

Although the DCSF Review concludes that more has to be done to implement good intentions, it’s instructive to read for the evidence it provides of a governmental willingness to engage with an issue that if resolved, will benefit everyone in the family - children and mothers as well as fathers.

Now and then in relatively obscure Scottish Government documents, something positive stirs e.g.: 'Strengthen antenatal care to better engage with parents with higher needs, in particular teenage mothers and young fathers.' (Final report from the services task group for the early years framework, 2008) And: 'Particular encouragement is given to support fathers and male carers/relatives in active engagement with the school and with becoming partners in their children’s learning'. (‘Key performance outcome in Partnerships with learners and parents’ Gender Equality: a toolkit for education staff, Scottish Executive, 2007).

Such brief statements need to be taken alongside other more public, high profile, outcome-specific publications such as the joint COSLA/Scottish Government National Domestic Abuse Delivery Plan for Children and Young People (2008) which talks about fathers but not unexpectedly, is bleak about the possibilities of good fathering.

1. Breaking-down stereotypes and engaging fathers in services for children and families, Children in Scotland (2010)