Visions, Values and Victory: do children have a right to a relationship with both of their parents?

Last week we held our first training day for professionals working with alienated children and their families at Facebook Headquarters in London.  We were delighted to have the support of Facebook for this event because we know that social media already plays and will play an increasingly significant role in keeping children in close relationship with their parents after separation.  For this first training day we had a number of practitioners from different disciplines and we considered, amongst other questions, the rights of the child.

One of the key questions we considered was the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents after separation.  This is a fundamental question for practitioners in my view, because the answer that one gives to that question will underpin the work that is done with families.  It was a stark and for me at least, cold reminder, that one of the biggest victories of the women’s rights/single parent lobby, has been to remove the belief from our society that children have a right to both of their parents after separation.  In our training room, the stark divide between those who believe that children do have a right to a relationship with both parents and those who do not, was underpinned by the mantra you cannot say that children have a right to both parents because that stigmatises single parents….This deeply ingrained value has been steadily carved into the collective psychology of practitioners over four decades of women’s rights based support to separated families and it was present in the room last week.  Interestingly, not where you would expect it to be, CAFCASS practitioners and Social Workers who were present did not hold that view, for others however, it is the bedrock of practice around the separated family.  

Working with separated families in the shadow of that mantra is, in my experience, one of the biggest stumbling blocks that practitioners face when trying to assist families where children have been alienated from one of their parents.  For it is that view and that value, that one cannot talk about the rights and needs of children to have a relationship with both of their parents, that actually underpins much of the alienating behaviour that we see in separated families in this country.  If one believes, as many people easily and airily suggest,  that children are not affected by family separation and that losing a parent has little impact upon them, then it is a short step to being able to dismiss the right of the child to a relationship with both of their parents after separation.  After which, the only real thing that matters is that single parents are not stigmatised because children do not have any other rights or need beyond one parent being financially secure enough to prevent them from living in poverty.

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.  As long as we do not think about it, hear about it or see the impact, we will not speak about it.  The single parent lobby has achieved an astounding victory over the past forty years in ensuring that those who work with separated families follow this approach.  And in the past three years, under a Coalition Government which came into power making clear statements about the rights and needs of children to have a relationship with both parents after separation, I have watched as that same mantra has ensured victory once again in keeping those hands over the ears, eyes and mouths of some of our key policy makers and practitioners.  We cannot talk about the impact of separation on children because that stigmatises single parents.  And so the rights of children, to a relationship with both sides of their genetic heritage, are simply not engaged with.  Suffer the little children, whose rights and needs are eclipsed by those of one of their parents (usually, although not always, their mother).

So what of the right of children to have a relationship with both of their parents?  Where do you stand on that key question.  I confess, as someone who was a single parent when my daughter was born, that I struggled for many years with this value.  My daughter’s father left me before she was born, I had every excuse in the world to jump on that single parent bandwagon and proclaim that my needs came before all else.  I was that stereotypical abandoned mother, I could have sung from the hymn sheet of the ‘sisters are doing it for themselves’ brigade for the rest of mine and my daughters life.  But I didn’t.  Why?

I didn’t because I recognised from the earliest days of my daughter’s life that she had arrived in a world where all children are born from the meeting of an egg and a sperm.  Many people said to me in her early days how sad it was that she did not have a father.  It seemed a ridiculous notion to me, that my daughter did not have a father.  Of course she had a father, she wouldn’t be on the planet if she did not have a father.  That basic understanding and acceptance, that a child has a biological mother and a biological father, underpinned all of my care of my child for the next two decades onwards.  It propelled me towards working as hard as I could with her father to find a way to build a relationship between them, overcoming my own feelings about his behaviour to continue to work with him.  It moved me onwards and forwards in my working life, to understand the way in which children conceptualise their heritage and relationships with each side of themselves. It took me into working with same sex relationships and understanding how donor children navigate their origins and it also lead me into working with adopted children and understanding how they deal with the big question of biological beginnings in the context of relational security with their adoptive parents.

It lead me to believe that all children, without exception, have the right to have access to knowledge about their genetic heritage and, where at all possible, to have the right to a relationship with both of their natural parents.  Its not a popular view in this day and age where the women’s rights lobby have more or less eradicated the idea that biology has any meaning at all, but it is one which is borne of working with and understanding children and the world that they live in. 

There will be those who throw up their hands and decide that in holding this belief I am dismissing same sex parenting.  Not so.  I can happily accept same sex parenting AND at the same time hold the belief that children have the right to know their genetic heritage.  After all, we have not yet come to a place where children can be created by the joining of two eggs or two sperm.  Children are created by the meeting of an egg and a sperm and whether that meeting is between the sheets or in a petri dish, only a man and a woman can contribute the distinct and different genetic material that produces a child.  It seems to me that in this world of social parenthood it is entirely possible for children to be raised by parents both biological and non biological AND maintain knowledge and connection with both sides of their genetic heritage.  To fail to offer that opportunity to children is, in my view, to put adult rights and needs above children’s.  

Many practitioners working with separated families will say that they are child focused in their approach and yet, when asked, will comfortably state that children are not affected by family separation, that only conflict affects them and that it is wrong to say that children need both parents because that stigmatises single parents.  I often wonder how those practitioners conceptualise the psychological tasks that face children in separated families or how they understand the reasons why children become alienated.  For it seems to me that the single parent lobby has created the perfect conditions for alienation to occur in children.  Firstly ensuring that children’s rights to a relationship with both sides of their genetic heritage are obscured by the rights of women not to be stigmatised and then widely proclaiming, using academic ‘evidence’ from feminist researchers, that children are not affected by separation.  From there it is but a short step to convincing people that fathers are quite simply irrelevant, a point of view which is increasingly promulgated in our society.

But children ARE affected by family separation.  In my experience they are deeply and lastingly affected and how they adapt to the tasks that are forced upon them is key to how they manage their own adult relationships in later life.  When I consider the generational experience of single parenthood in this country, which tops that of our European neighbours, I wonder how the reality of what we have done in closing our eyes, ears and mouths about the impact of separation can be so widely ignored.

And then I realise all over again, the silencing power of the women’s rights lobby. That which has the power to shame, ridicule and ruin anyone who speaks against it and I understand all over again why policy makers and practitioners alike hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil.  A vision of complete dominance, in which the values we hold are controlled by those who perceive adult rights as being above those of children and who, in their goal of eradicating the rights of children to have a relationship with both of their parents, are victorious.

Do children have the right to a relationship with both of their parents?  I think so.  Do you?



  1. Just the phrase “single parent” has always gotten me riled, it does as you say take an egg and a sperm to create a life and therefore it is impossible to be a single parent, it is however possible to be single AND a parent. Those that constantly use the phrase “single Parent” do so, in my mind in order to align themselves with those in society who seek to push the domination of one gender over the other which is often, I believe linked in to the desire to prove to the world that it is perfectly possible and therefore should be acceptable to remove one parent from a child’s life based on their own feelings and ideologies rather than the ability to actually put the child’s welfare and development above all else. Yes children have a right to have a full and meaningful relationship with both of their parents anyone preventing that without there being a real possibility of harm to the child is, in my view, an abuser, be they a resident parent, CAFCASS officer , social worker or whoever. Isn’t that how we would term anyone who removes another’s rights?


  2. One man I know, stated that he detested the word “fatherlessness” which is widely used, including by F4J and other pro-father groups.

    When I though about it, he is absolutely correct – there is no such thing as fatherlessness.

    An awful lot of peeling back is required.


  3. YES, absolutely, children have a right to a relationship with both parents!!!!

    But a right, especially a child’s right, is meaningless unless it also places an obligation on someone else, in this case, the child’s parents, and the professionals who are employed to act in that child’s interests.


  4. What about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:
    “Article 9
    3. States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests.”

    It is not for practitioners to consider the child’s right, it is law. The UK ratified this treaty in 1991, where have these people been?


  5. On the nail as usual Karen. When working with Dads in NZ I always start with …’this is about your children’s rights to have a full and complete relationship with you and thier mother.’


  6. The recent Family Justice Review Panel chaired by David Norgrove, prior to the Justice Select Committee’s deliberations on new legislation in the field of ‘family’ law, it might be remembered considered the matter of establishing a presumption in favour of shared parenting, which many argued should have been more clearly defined as equality of parenting time. Many also argued that the child’s wish for such parenting should be a fundamental consideration, knowing how easily such natural wishes are dismissed in court when one parent wishes otherwise. The sum of the argument against, it seemed, was that children would be forced into parenting arrangements they did not want, or that their lives would be put in danger (on the basis of a handful of Australian cases where judges had negligently awarded equal parenting without waiting for documents relating to parental mental health).

    The Panel consulted with children and young people on a few issues, forgetting to consult in Welsh with Welsh children and young people. However, despite this presumption having come under the Panel’s remit, as it was evidently discussed with a recommendation being made to government not to introduce it on the weakest of rationales, these children and young people were not invited to make any comments on it. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly indicates that children should have a voice in matters which have an effect on them. In Wales, the Welsh Assembly has created a groundbreaking Children and Young People Act which specifically draws attention to the importance of this Convention’s Articles in all the Assembly’s deliberations. David Norgrove was silent on this matter when challenged. As the commenter above states, it is as if this important Convention does not exist sometimes in the minds of those who wield power.

    I can only agree with Tony Booth-lydon that in the absence of any risk of harm to the child, it is hard to see how a parent who takes children away from the other parent against their wishes for seeing both in equal measure, causing great distress to them as a result in exchange for satisfying some personal desire to start a new life, commits nothing less than a form of child abuse to which the state turns a blind eye.

    Getting this across to disinterested MP’s who can do something about it is the major challenge.


  7. I always have the impression that the term `single parent’ is appropriated by many people because of the perceived `heroism’ of it. It’s a term that suggests that one person – one of two – who has created a child has been abandoned by the other to valiantly bring up a child alone.

    In my experience assisting people in and out of court I have come across many parents who have (and continue) to do their utmost to prevent a child having a relationship with the other other parent…and call themselves a `single parent’.

    It strikes me as perverse in the extreme and makes me question the motive of someone who does this sort of thing. I can only conclude, as I say above, that there is a certain kudos.


  8. I am not so convinced as you are that social workers including cafcass officers have the stomach for promoting and supporting the family. I am on the receiving end of cases involving women who work for these organisations who are single parents and intentionally denying or restricting access of the father’s to their children. Perhaps you could run courses specifically for single parents?


  9. I have given a lot of thought to how to reconsile the idea of a child’s right to have a relationship with its biological parents, which I strongly believe is best for them, with my observation that social parenting works well in some cases, such as many (but not all) adoptions, same sex parents and also step-parents. To me one of the distinguishing features appears to be how the biological parent is portrayed. As an example I have a friend who has created two children for a lesbian couple, two children with whom he will never have nor wishes to have a relationship. These children will be brought up in the knowledge that they do not know their father, but without the “gift” he gave to their mums they would not be there. What I am trying to say that they will end up with a positive image of their absent father. I have little doubt that the lack of relationship with their biological parent will be well managed and not impact on them too severely. This is very much in contrast to many divorce cases where the children are fed a derogatory picture of their biological parent and hence of half of whom they are.

    I think the same goes for children where one parent is clearly not capable of looking after them or even dangerous to them. This could be a result of substance abuse or severe mental help issues or even the feckless parent who just walked away. The onus is on the other parent not just to protect his or her children from this parent, but also to manage the impact on the children. Such a parent should not be painted as feckless, evil or other derogatory terms, but as someone in need of help or ill. We owe it to our children to teach them such compassion and also not to let them grow up believing half of what they come from is no good.


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