Post by karenwoodall on Sept 11, 2013 12:01:12 GMT
Having worked in the field of family separation since the late eighties, I have always been aware of the way in which family services in this arena are underpinned by the women’s rights agenda. This agenda, which was established from the early seventies onwards as an orthodoxy which must not be queried or challenged, holds that supporting families after separation, must always begin with the needs and rights of women. Children’s needs and rights in this environment are seen as indivisible from those of their mothers, whilst fathering after separation is viewed variously as dangerous, optional and complicated, and always viewed as potentially undermining the rights of women. This approach, which is embedded throughout health and social services as well as family court welfare services, has created a situation where the UK has the highest rates of fatherlessness in Europe. What lies beneath our fractured and fragile families is a set of policies and practice which are directly and unashamedly concerned with upholding, maintaining and furthering the rights of women. It therefore seems to me to be utterly pointless to wring our hands over the issue, when we know what causes it. Either we change what underpins how we support families after family separation or we live with the fatherlessness that the current legislation causes. Quite simply, you cannot change one without changing the other.
The massively funded political lobby groups concerned with this women’s rights agenda, have recently achieved astounding success in pushing two key pieces of work to reform both legislation and family services over the cliff. Having been part of the Coalition Government’s efforts to bring about a fairer and more inclusive approach to supporting families after separation, I have witnessed the slick and seamless way this has been implemented. Whilst some commentators are just waking up to the reality that the Children and Families Bill is, in terms of its proclaimed changes towards presumption of shared care, dead in the water, I was writing about this in March of this year when I noticed that Liz Trinder et al had rushed out the results of their study on enforcement of contact. When you are up against strategists who have power in academia, in social policy and in practice around the family, it pays to be wide awake and watching closely, because by the time most people realise what has happened, the deft handed feminists have shifted the goal posts and whispered in the ears of those in power. By the time Tim Loughton was shoved out of office and Maria Miller was elevated to the role of culture secretary, those two key pieces of reform were finished. In the Department for Education, the Children and Families Bill went on to be diluted in such a way that its meaning was demolished and in the Department for Work and Pensions the ambitious project to reform voluntary sector support to separated families had been well and truly killed off. What remains is what has always been there, a powerful women’s rights agenda which is carried through by the charities which sit around government. Only now, we are told that the government supports collaboration between parents and we are shown the amount of money which has been spent on doing so as ‘proof’ that something has changed. Like Edward Timpson in his words to the Children and Families Bill Scrutiny Committee, nothing has changed, they just want people to think things have changed. Are we really that stupid?
Whatever we are, those of us working with separated families on a daily basis know that nothing has changed and that what is being delivered by government funded services, continues to be offered in exactly the same paradigm as it has been for the past forty years or more. Family policy continues to be dominated by the women’s rights lobby and the needs and rights of women continue to be at the heart of everything that is delivered. All that can happen, as we move forward therefore, is that the fathers rights groups, can either, join the party and water down the interests of the men that they represent, or scale the walls of injustice and try to raise public awareness of what is being done to men in the name of women’s rights after family separation. There is nowhere else to go when the issue is boiled down to the rights of one parent set against the rights of the other. The pitiful thing is that as this finely balanced see-saw battle continues, more generations of children will suffer the same loss and grief which is the legacy handed to them by family policy which upholds the rights of one parent over the other.
The feminists who create and maintain this misery are strategically skilled, government funded and invested in maintaining the status quo. They are active and involved at every level of government and persuasive in furthering their agenda. The trump card that they are not averse to playing, is to become strategically offended should anyone question their views, motives or research. Do not underestimate these women, they are superbly skilled at manipulation, of facts and of people and, if that does not do the trick, they will personalise the battle and attack reputations to win the fight.
And that is why this fight cannot be fair or fought in an open and transparent manner. Because the fight itself, has been set up as a women’s rights issue, but masked as an issue about children. Women’s rights after separation was an issue which emerged from the changes in the divorce laws and the increased dissolution of marriage as the preferred structure in which to bring up children. The current legislation which surrounds our separated families, has therefore nothing whatsoever to do with the needs and welfare of children and everything to do with the rights of women. Which is where we get things so badly wrong.
Arguments around the care of children are, to my mind, a nonsense when they are based upon personal rights. For what is it to become a parent but to divest yourself of your personal rights, at least for a period of time, whilst you prioritise your children’s rights and needs. Whilst I absolutely understand the fathers rights movement, and I get what the struggle for equality is about, I also understand that whilst ever this argument is framed around individual rights, the women’s lobby are going to win it every time. This is not a fight that can be fought over individual rights, it is one which has to be reconfigured around something else, if any change is to be made in my lifetime.
That reconfiguration, it seems to me, has to truly be around children, their rights and their needs for the kind of balance that having a relationship with two parents brings. And it has to be named as such instead of being covertly linked to the rights of women. Currently, whilst health and social services are, at least on the surface of things, concerned with children’s well being, if you scratch the surface of practice around the family, the wellbeing of children is viewed as being in tandem with those of their mother.
Similarly, in the family courts, where CAFCASS hold sway over assessments of families, the same practice, of seeing children as an extension of their mother, is extraordinarily powerful. Little wonder many fathers exit state run services feeling demonised and demoralised. They go in believing its about their children and come out understanding its about women, with children coming a long way behind.
This lop sided approach, which is born of the belief that the rights of women, to be free to choose how they live their life after separation, unencumbered by the relationship with the father of their children, has lead to the increasing belief in social fatherhood or the idea that any man can be a dad to any kid. Throughout the nineties, the Leeds University, Centre for Research on Family, Kinship and Childhood, headed up by Carol Smart churned out hundreds of working papers on the ‘changing family’, a subject which was largely dominated by feminist thoughts on disposable fatherhood. This notion, that fathering is not really related to any kind of biological tie to a child is EXACTLY the reason men are lambasted and blamed by the outer world for the breakdown of the family. In short, the feminist unpicking of the importance of the role of men in family lives, is used to blame men themselves for their struggle to maintain relationships with their children after separation. And is further used as the foundation for justification for all of the discriminatory policies that push dads out of children’s lives.
Just like the Children and Families Bill, those feminists don’t want anything to change, and will work their socks off behind the scenes to make sure it doesn’t, but they will allow you think something has changed, even when it has not if it is expedient to the cause.
What I am really left with however, as I struggle with the way in which our family services uphold the rights of women over the needs of children, is just how little anyone really cares. I don’t know whether those in power actually understand what has happened to the family and family policy or whether they do know and they don’t care. I know for sure however, from my experience in the past three years with efforts to reform social policy, that the appetite to go anywhere near real change is minimal and I know that great damage can be done to those who try. Which leaves me feeling cold and somewhat aghast as I watch the way in which these women create and maintain the illusion, which is delivered by charities which are funded by government and which has nothing to do with children and everything to do with the power of women over men.