If you watched the Victoria Derbyshire show yesterday you would be forgiven for thinking that we were back to the turn of the century in the UK on the topic of fatherhood after family separation.
The storyline is ‘contact at all costs’ and the aim is to pull the debate about children’s relationships with their parents after family separation, back into the political football match of gender, in which fathers are always considered advantaged, dangerous and a risk to their children.
I felt sorry for Sarah Parsons of CAFCASS, the body charged with looking after children’s welfare after family separation. She was the person holding the parcel when the music stopped yesterday and her discomfort showed. When faced with a mostly female panel of crusading gender activists, the reality of what is happening to children after family separation is never going to be debated fairly.
Victoria Derbyshire has presided over programmes about parental alienation and so she should recognise that this issue is particularly important to tease apart and discuss in a balanced and dispassionate manner. Unfortunately, flanked as she was by a woman whose children were tragically killed in a house fire by their father and Jess Phillips – she of the snorting, sneering, self righteous wing of feminism, Victoria upped the ante in what I can only call a bear baiting approach to asking questions of the men on the panel.
Tim Loughton MP spoke lucidly and was courageous in getting across the message that actually in the UK more children are killed by their mothers (and at times their new partners) than are killed in contact with a father after family separation. Jess Phillips however, scenting an opportunity to blame men further, pointed out that the new partner is almost certainly a man and so there you have it, wherever children are killed, a man is involved.
This kind of debate is what feminists are trained for and the make-up of the panel being largely female including the presence of a mother whose children were killed by their father and a self proclaimed feminist lawyer who told us how domestic violence is minimised by judges, provided the perfect platform for the domestic violence lobby to re-establish control over this issue.
Who can argue rationally in the face of all of that emotive and tragic background? As Victoria Derbyshire told us, doesn’t matter how many kids are seeing or not seeing their dads, we are not interested in that, we are only interested in the four children killed by their fathers and anyone who argues differently is inhuman.
The problem with the issue of children’s relationships with their parents after family separation is that for five decades it has been portrayed solely as a mother’s rights/father’s rights issue with children being deemed as having rights which are inextricably linked with the rights of their mother. This is why organisations like Families need Fathers struggle so hard when they try to represent the issue of parental alienation, they are being dragged into fighting about it as if it is a parental rights argument when it is not.
Neither, in reality, is the issue of children being killed in contact with a father. This extreme violence is not about parental or children’s rights it is, like parental alienation, a mental health issue and the safeguarding procedures of all family courts and all people involved in the family courts is where the focus should lie.
The women’s rights lobby however do not want the issue of domestic abuse to fall within an argument about mental health because that would take us out of the political stand point approach of patriarchy which is the construct used by feminists to gain and maintain control in the gender war this creates.
Is there such a thing as patriarchy? Are all men inherently advantaged over women? I walk in the streets of London and see the homeless, almost all men and I know that the construct is not based in reality. Life isn’t as easy to analyse as the gender warriors want us to believe it is. Children’s relationships with their parents after family separation are not part of a gender war and the idea that all men are a risk to their children until proven otherwise, which still runs underneath all debates such as the one seen yesterday on the BBC, is a product of a gender war we need to move beyond.
The issue in fact is not a rights based issue at all, it is a socio-mental health issue in which the whole family requires support through the transition caused by separation and beyond.
Our focus in working with separate families should be on safeguarding, triage and differentiation of cases in the family courts and the mental health of the families involved. Family separation, like bereavement, brings immense stress and suffering and the risks inherent in that should be understood and the needs of families properly met.
Children’s relationships with parents after family separation do not belong in the parental rights arena or the political construct of patriarchy but in mental health and that is where the debate has been shifting in recent months.
When the issue is properly located in mental health, all of the issues around children’s wellbeing can be evaluated and the way in which families respond to those needs can be properly understood and supported.
He said/she said, simply takes us back to the turn of the century and watching the Victoria Derbyshire show yesterday, that is where it felt we had returned.
Family separation is a mental health issue not a parental rights fight, for five decades we have ignored it, time now to turn the page and do what works for children of divorce and separation.