Research Erodes the Myth of the Absent Dad

Gone are the days when many dads missed their children’s births. In fact, as ADRIENNE BURGESS told the recent Fathers Network AGM, the modern dads are overwhelmingly present throughout the perinatal period

Research Erodes the Myth of the Absent Dad

2018-11-18_(5).pngGone are the days when many dads missed their children’s births. In fact, as ADRIENNE BURGESS told the recent Fathers Network AGM, modern dads are overwhelmingly present throughout the perinatal period – and viewed as important assets by forward-thinking services.

A QUICK quiz for International Men's Day: what percentage of dads in Scotland do you think are present at the birth of their children?

Given the stories we’re fed by certain elements of the media about single mums or feckless dads, you might be forgiven for guessing significantly lower than the figure our survey of Scottish dads revealed earlier this year:

97 per cent. Surprised?

Babyscan_still.pngOther results told a similar story. More than 92 per cent of the 563 who responded to our maternity services survey had attended at least one routine antenatal appointment with their partners; and a heartening 99 per cent were there for at least one scan.


Now, critics might point out that our survey was relatively small, and may have been biased towards more conscientious dads in terms of those who responded. So what happens when you compare those figures with a much bigger pool of data?

Adrienne Burgess, CEO of the Fatherhood Institute, provided just such a meta-analysis when she presented our recent AGM with the findings of Who’s the Bloke in the Room – this year’s research synthesis by FI and the Nuffield Foundation of no fewer than 388 UK research papers dating from 1998 to present day.

The results mirror our survey and the vast range of extra information makes for arresting reading, not least on the once-vexed question: Where are fathers at the time of the birth?

  • What percentage of biological parents in the UK are in a couple relationship at the time of the birth? 95%
  • What percentage of biological parents jointly register the birth of their baby? 95%
  • What percentage of births are jointly registered to two women? 1:1000
  • What percentage of women aged 25+ have a new partner at the time of the birth? Negligible –and among teenage mothers it’s only 2.2%


The implications of this are obvious for anyone interested in the wellbeing of families, says Adrienne. As the title Who’s the Bloke in the Room? suggests, it’s time to let go of all those tired old stereotypes and start seeing fathers as the assets they are.

“I want everyone to understand that at the time of the birth there are almost no single mums, there are almost no absent fathers, and if maternity services are not engaging with the whole family they are missing a trick,” she states. “He is there!”

You can watch the whole of Adrienne’s compelling presentation below, or read the study online here. (continues below)

As well as the good news about fathers’ real-life involvement, Who's the Bloke in the Room lays out peer-reviewed data showing the impact of that involvement in women and children’s lives ranging from smoking and dietary outcomes to mental health.


More worrying, the accompanying survey conducted both in Scotland and UK as a whole, showed that most maternity services have not yet grasped the huge influence fathers have on family wellbeing – in some cases staff don’t even address them by name, and many are turfed out of hospital after visiting hours, at the very point their partners and babies most need them.

In line with the Scottish Government’s own 2011 Framework for Maternity Care requiring maternity services to ‘recognize the father’s role and include them’, Adrienne flagged up some key recommendations as follows:

  1. Change NHS terminology to refer to fathers
  2. Invite, enrol and engage with expectant dads
  3. Deliver woman-focused, family-centred services
  4. ‘Father-proof’ maternity staff training
  5. ‘Father-proof’ information for expectant/new parents
  6. Collect better data on expectant and new dads


Donna_Brough.jpgThere’s much more detail in the report, but the good news is that change is coming – as we heard in presentations by some of the trail-blazers at our AGM. For example Donna Brough and her midwifery team at Ninewells Dundee have transformed their maternity wards into one of Scotland’s first fully dad-friendly services, with facilities guaranteed for overnight stays.

And Kate Magumese of NHS Fife showed how health visitors can bring dad more consciously into the picture for the benefit of children and families. Because research shows that mums overwhelmingly want their partners involved.

In both cases, culture change was assisted by FNS’s Understanding Dad training – so get in touch if you’d like help bringing fathers more consciously into your services.

Meanwhile, watch this space for detailed reports on Donna’s and Kate’s stories – and let’s keep pushing for positive change for the sake of the whole family!