Saturday, June 15, 2013

Absent Fathers Day

'The family' is in rapid flux - the traditional father/sole earner combination of the early to mid 1900s is dying out, and the traditional dual parent family is rapidly following.

Fractured Families, a report issued earlier this week by the Centre for Social Justice, observes:
One in two children born today will not grow up with both their parents and every year an additional 20,000 people, mainly women, join the throngs of those raising children more or less singlehandedly. One million children have no meaningful contact at all with their fathers, and that’s a conservative estimate.

The personal and social costs are huge:
Such breakdown would matter not a lot if the human and economic costs were insignificant. But they are in fact devastating. Children with separated, single or step-parents are 50 per cent more likely to fail at school, have low self-esteem, struggle to make friends and with their behaviour. They often battle with anxiety or depression throughout the rest of their lives. 

Adults’ mental and physical health can take a huge knock when relationships crumble, making it much harder for them to achieve at work and be the parents they want to be. The costs are eye-watering – rising to £49 billion per annum by the end of this Parliament, it’s more than the Government’s whole defence budget.

There is an epidemic of family breakdown, and whilst the government showers sticking plasters at the symptoms (mental health problems, educational failure, substance abuse etc.) nothing is done about the illness. Government after government has shied away from significant investment in family stability, investing in relationships & marriage and encouraging people to stay together.

92% of lone parent families are headed by the mother. Even at birth, 20% of children live with only 1 parent, by the time they are teenagers this is nearly 50%. For up to 3 million children tomorrow will be Absent Fathers Day, and here are some of the the consequences:
Children who experience family breakdown are more likely to 
  • experience behavioural problems; 
  • perform less well in school; 
  • need more medical treatment;
  • leave school and home earlier; 
  • become sexually active, pregnant or a parent at an early age; 
  • and report more depressive symptoms and higher levels of smoking, drinking and other drug use during adolescence and adulthood.
The report points out the structural issues, as well as the personal ones. At the more dramatic end of the scale Fathers4Justice highlight the way that family support often leaves dads out of the picture. Our experience of ante-natal classes was a lot of stuff about the mechanics of birth and feeding the baby, and nothing at all about how to parent together and support each other as mother and father, even though it was a prime opportunity to support new parents in that way. In other cases the father simply walks away. The overall effect is that over 1 million children in the UK never see their father, and up to a million more have little or no meaningful contact.

The UK is near the bottom of international leagues on this. It's peculiar that in some areas of childrens policy, league tables are assiduously compiled and published (education) but in others they are completely ignored.

The full report goes into a lot of detail, statistics, and analysis;
 -  for example that cohabiting couples are 2 to 2.5 times more likely than married couples to break up, which in turn has consequences for the nearly 2m (and rising) number of children in 2-parent cohabiting households.  

 - Or that for every £6,000 in reactive spending to family breakdown, the government spends only £1 on prevention. 

 - Or that 76% of young people in custody have an absent father. 

It's not a simple issue, there are multiple causes, from culture to cost (the sheer cost of getting married makes it unavailable to low-income families). Whatever you think about same-sex marriage, in the light of the above, is that really the top priority in family policy? Shouldn't we be debating all this instead? 

So pray for us dads, absent and present, on Fathers day, for mums, for children. And pray that this will be the generation where the tide of family breakdown turns back, and we get the political and civil and cultural leadership to make that happen. 


  1. Thank you David. This is an outstanding piece on an important issue we shouldn't be ignoring.

  2. The statistic that says cohabiting couples break up more than married couples is misleading. Most couples cohabit before marriage - they go forward either to break up or to marry. If they marry early in the relationship instead of cohabiting, they would still be more likely to break up that those who have been together longer.

    I do pray for absent fathers, but I remember all those women who know that they are better off without the father. I also pray for those women trapped in abusive relationships, or relationship where the father's contribution to the work of being a family is minimal. And I am profoundly sick of lone parents being blamed for all society's ills.

    Children brought up by their two birth parents 'do best' statistically. However, we should bear in mind that children brought up by lone parents 'do better' than those brought up in remarriage situations. Marriage oer se, therefore, is no panacea. We need to ensure women and men who are lone parents are able to cope in that situation, not penalise them to the point where they feel that marriage is their only option, whether or not the partner is suitable.

  3. Sure, lets drill into the facts and find out what really works and what doesn't. But all too often we haven't got very far before people say that you're stigmatising lone parents. This debate is too important to be shut down by claims like that.

    I agree that we need to help everyone - part of the point of my post was that at the moment we are helping nobody. With a few exceptions, there is no relationship preparation given to people who are getting married, nor to those who are having children. Most lone parents don't end up that way intentionally, but the sad fact is that they do end up that way, so how do we make it less likely to happen?

  4. Really good post David, presses a lot of the right buttons when it comes to one of the great unspoken things about our culture - fathers. Essential, but disappearing in so many places. Massive thing to pray for.

  5. "The sheer cost of getting married makes it unavailable to low-income families." Frankly, I have never understood this claim. Why does getting married have to be an expensive affair?

    Sure, some people want to spend thousands on a once-in-a-lifetime luxury holiday, or book a reception for 100+ guests at a £50-a-head opulent wedding venue. But is all that really necessary?

    You can make yourself a happy day to remember on a tight budget if you really want to. For example, we held our reception in a local church hall; the food was arranged by the ladies in our church -- and was their wedding gift to us. Another friend provided the flowers to decorate the church and the reception as their gift to us. Our honeymoon was a week at a B&B in the west-country.

  6. It doesn't, but it is, and people feel a high level of pressure and social expectation. If weddings like yours were more common, then maybe people wouldn't feel it was beyond them, but most people aren't church members and don't have church folk to sort the food for them (as happened for two of our church members last year). The perceived cost of getting married is regularly cited by couples as a reason for not doing it. In some cases it may be an excuse, but it's very common.