Autumn finds us working on the development of our network of family separation centres, the most recent addition of which is the Jersey Centre for Separated Families. This network, which works outside of the prevailing lone parent model of support, demonstrates what can be done when local expertise is combined with a holistic approach to supporting separated families.
The critical part of what we are doing with our new network is located in its delivery of a whole family model, which is designed to engage with, and support, every family member and meet their different needs for support. This is outside of the prevailing paradigm and deliberately moves away from the the lone parent model (which is the current framework used in the UK), which was designed to create and maintain fatherlessness.
That last statement may be a little much for some, whilst others may immediately understand what I mean by it. It is, however, worth explaining the reality of how the lone parent model of support was designed to create fatherlessness because it is only when one understands this in real terms, that it is possible to see how delivering family services which are underpinned by it will continue to deliver generational fatherlessness.
The lone parent model of support, which divides two previously partnered parents into two distinct roles on the morning of their separation, forces one parent to take up the role of carer for children and the other to take up the role of provider. So deeply embedded in our belief system is the idea that separated mothers care and separated fathers provide, that people who do not understand real separated family life appear to believe that parents have these distinctly divided roles tattooed within their DNA. The fact that mothers AND fathers care for children and mothers AND fathers provide for children when the family is together is widely accepted. That mothers AND fathers wish to care for their children and mothers AND fathers are able to provide for their children when the family separates seems to leave many people astonished and sometimes confused. In discussing this, I hear over and over the phrase ‘but 90% of primary carers after separation are mothers‘, the intimation being ‘surely that proves that mothers are the natural carers for children’. And though we have been saying it for over fifteen years, I patiently reply all over again with the following explanation:
The lone parent model of support to families was designed as part of a women’s rights agenda. The split of roles into carer and provider is denoted by the Child Benefit. Whoever receives it, receives all of the financial and other support available, regardless of how much care each parent gives, even when it is a fully shared parenting arrangement. Almost 100% of Child Benefit is paid directly to mothers when the family is together. Using it as a gateway to denote who is the primary carer was a supreme move by those who designed the legislation because it ensures that control over the family after separation lies well and truly in the hands of women. Try being a mother who is not the primary carer in this model, consider for a moment how other people will react to you. Now add a large dose of the lies, stereotypes and misinformation peddled by the women’s rights movement about fathers after separation, and you will begin to understand how the lone parent model of support to separated families is designed to create and maintain fatherlessness and how, if you underpin services with research and strategies from this model, you will deliver the same outcomes of disengaged fathers that we have seen in the past four decades since the women’s rights movement took over social policy around the family.
The old saying ‘if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got’ is one that exemplifies the UK government’s approach to supporting family separation. The most recent example of this being demonstrated by the Coalition Government’s Help and Support for Separated Families (HSSF) initiative which, ironically, had as its intention (at the outset at least) a move towards supporting parents to collaborate after separation. Sadly, as with most if not all of the government funded services which are available to support parents after separation, HSSF has fallen foul of the dominant and all encompassing lone parent model of analysis and delivery. Which means that it predominantly serves the needs of mothers, who are considered to have problems, at the same time as seeing fathers as people who are problems. As a result, we can confidently expect that the latest £14 million, which was supposedly made available to test innovative new approaches to supporting collaboration between parents, will simply deliver the same outcomes as all of the other rounds of wasted funding in this arena.
In contrast, working in a whole family model – even though that is constrained by the prevailing strait jacket of the lone parent model in legislation – entry to the family is offered by fathers as well as mothers. This whole family model, which values equally the different things that mothers and fathers bring to their children’s lives ensures that strong and confident relationships are maintained by both parents with their children through and beyond the crisis of separation. The critical part of this model is what makes delivery and access to services different to the lone parent model. The difference being that fathers are presumed to be equally as important and equally as valuable as mothers are in children’s lives, and their importance is not watered down or apologised for; it is simply both expected and supported.
In the whole family model that we developed at the Centre for Separated Families (which is underpinned by gender mainstreaming approaches to supporting equality between parents), the family is a unit in which children enjoy the benefits of access to the different things that mothering and fathering bring to their lives. It is not, as Harriet Harman’s 1990’s policy paper the Family Way describes, outdated and fathers, as described in the same paper, are not considered unnecessary. Neither is the whole family model one which determines that the only right way to bring up children is in a two parent family situation. A whole family model simply recognises, engages with and supports the different needs of all important adults in a child’s life, instead of locating all need for support in one parent whilst demonising the other, which is the current UK way of supporting families after separation.
The reality is that the lone parent model of support furthers the rights of women and renders fathers meaningless; and it was designed that way. The lone parent model of support tells us that fathers abandon their families, that they are reckless, feckless and that they spend their money in the pub rather than on their children. A stereotype tweeted only yesterday by Harriet Harman and which is so offensive that I consider it to be akin to saying that all black men carry guns and sell drugs. The lone parent model of support delivers all of the decision making power about the family directly into the hands of mothers via the Child Benefit ‘gateway’ and enables mothers to take and maintain control over children, leading to the desperate situation of dads being driven into the family courts to ask ‘permission’ to have relationships with their children.
And the lone parent model, which furthers a women’s rights agenda, is massively funded by government and Charities such as the Nuffield Foundation to ‘research’ family separation in order to tell us that mothers have problems whilst fathers are problems. The lone parent model is a well constructed, well funded, well maintained, illusion, that has nothing to do with the well being of children and everything to do with ensuring that the rights of women come before all else. Before fathers, before the family and ultimately before children. Delivering services in this paradigm can only ever further this myth and can only ever shore up and support the misinformation which is endlessly recycled by those women who first garnered control over the family and since then have done everything to maintain it.
As Autumn settles in and the leaves begin to fall, we are planting seeds for a different way of working. Seeds which have been taken from the fruit of our whole family approach with families over the past fifteen years and which have proved to us and to the parents and practitioners we work with that outside of the lone parent paradigm, where fathers as well as mothers are equally valued for the different things they offer to our children, different outcomes are possible. Off shore on Islands around the UK, soon in Northern Ireland, the Midlands and in London, whole family approaches will be embedded within the community, bypassing the state and the illusion that it peddles, connecting with families in ways that offer astonishing levels of change. As we roll this ball up hill again, more hands have come to join us and the model of collaboration between men and women serving the needs of mothers and fathers in local communities is becoming real. A world far beyond the lone parent paradigm, where lies, stereotypes and misinformation are no longer needed because we are working with reality, not what the women’s rights movement tell us about families.
In a world of sadness and loss, where challenge and change are daily experiences, mutual co-operation in local communities brings relief, respect and rejuvenation to mothers and fathers who are hurting and struggling to cope.
And those of us who work with families, find that we can sleep again at night.