Recent research by Families Need Fathers – Both Parents Matter Cymru (FNF-BPM) has highlighted systemic sex discrimination throughout statutory services in Wales.
The report surveyed fathers about their experiences in reporting and attempting to deal with domestic abuse. The research concludes;
‘The inescapable conclusion of the survey is that men face built in systemic sex discrimination from statutory bodies such as the Police, Family Courts and social workers. Perhaps even worse is the clear feeling expressed by the male respondents to the survey that domestic abuse support services are actually prejudiced against men.’
Quite rightly, there has been a strong focus on statutory services to do more to support women suffering from domestic violence. However, it is clearly imperative that these services also offer the same opportunities and support to men.
Family Matters Institute manages and runs Europe’s largest advice and support website for fathers, DAD.info. On the popular peer-support forum, we sadly hear regular examples of statutory discrimination from a variety of state-provided services across the UK. Our forum moderators, who have been advising for over five years on legal issues and navigation of state-provided services recognise that it is harder for men to report domestic violence;
‘The trouble is many men won’t report such [domestic violence] incidents, the police should take it as seriously but sometimes there is still a flippant attitude towards men suffering from domestic violence. Attitudes are changing but it’s a slow process I’m afraid.’
Furthermore, the discrimination throughout statutory services often means that fathers have difficultly accessing their children, which results in poorer social and emotional outcomes for children and fathers alike. One father on the forum commented that;
‘There is huge anecdotal and statistical evidence to support the view that discrimination against fathers is institutionalised within CAFCASS [The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – ed.]. The normal attitude of the (almost invariably female) CAFCASS social workers is ‘if you don’t like it, challenge it in court.’ Whilst that is possible, it has to be remembered that CAFCASS is appointed by the court to be its eyes and ears, and so is hardly likely to be disbelieved unless it can be shown to be wrong.’
FMI obviously fully support social services (or the other relevant services involved) in prioritising the best interests of children and their safety in any given situation. However, the ease with which systems and services can be manipulated and used to withhold access to children is a concerning issue that provides negative outcomes for children and their parents.
This discrimination is ultimately linked to negative stereotypes of ‘absent’ or ‘deadbeat’ fathers.* Services need to be aware of the harm these can do, and how they do not accurately portray the majority of fathers who are committed to having a supportive and positive influence in their child’s lives, regardless of their relationship with the mother. Negative stereotypes perpetuate the ease of sexual discrimination against men, and must be addressed across all state-provided services including Police, Family Courts, and Social Services.
There needs to be a positive change in the approach of our front-line services to avoid such easy manipulation of, and discrimination against, vulnerable fathers. Family Matters Institute are working towards this in our research and policy focus this year, and we congratulate and support FNF-BPM on their timely and much-needed evidence.
* The Fatherhood Institute produced an insightful and comprehensive explanation of the harm certain stereotypes of fathers can have in their 2007 guide, ‘The difference a Dad makes’.
All quotations from moderators and forum users are taken from the forum pages of DAD.info. Any views quoted from the forum and forum users the views of unique users, and not DAD.info or Family Matters Institute.