For the first time, a partnership between the University of East Anglia and Lancaster University has reported new findings about fathers’ involvement in care and recurrent care proceedings in England.
Using in-depth interviews and monthly phone calls, the team were able to map the life histories, family relationships and encounters with local authorities of more than 73,000 fathers.
A survey of dads in 18 local authorities was completed, along with a qualitative study following the lives of 26 dads involved in recurrent care proceedings over a 12-month period.
In around 20% of care proceedings cases, no father was recorded. However, a father was named in 80% of cases.
There were very few lone fathers in recurrent care proceedings, whereas many repeat cases featured lone mothers. Over a five-year period, 12% of fathers had reappeared before the court, and like mothers in repeat care proceedings, were more likely to be younger and to lose infants from their care.
The study found that significant childhood adversity, early entry to parenthood and persistent economic hardship were all key issues for dads who experienced repeated involvement in care proceedings.
Fathers who took part in the research had often suffered considerable adversity in their own childhoods and lacked appropriate support at key points throughout their lives. They also described long-lasting emotional pain following the loss of their children and a desire to play an ongoing parenting role.
It was suggested in the findings that services should avoid assuming that fathers are always optional or secondary parents. In fact, 79% of fathers appeared as couples in repeat care proceedings, not on their own. Most of the dads who participated in the study were also actively trying to make changes to their lives, despite a shortage of resources and opportunities.
Professor Karen Broadhurst, from Lancaster University commented: “We now have a far more complete picture of mothers, fathers and couples in the family justice system, and what needs to change to prevent repeat involvement.”
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