Including Men - Public Policy Shift

I was in Brighton a couple of weeks ago where I attended the Men’s Network national conference. It was an interesting day where I met people from many different organisations and who held many differing viewpoints on the issue of father and male inclusion in society. During the day I kept hearing from delegates that ‘nothing has changed over the past decade’ and that ‘inclusion of fathers and men is still light years away’. I thought about it and found that I disagreed with them. There has been significant public policy and strategy shift over the last decade and I do believe that there has been a profound shift amongst some of our politicians in their thinking about fathers and male carers. At present there are 28 key government policy and legislative documents which explicitly refer to fathers and / or father engagement in family support, health and education services. Most of these have come into being in the last decade or so.

A significant change in government policy in relation to fathers gradually emerged under the New Labour government (1997 – 2010), as policy makers began to take account of research demonstrating the beneficial impact of positive father involvement on child outcomes. Increasingly, the focus began to shift from the role of fathers as breadwinners towards the need for services to support men in their caring role. This change is apparent early in New Labour administration, for example the 1998 Green Paper “Supporting Families” stated: “Fathers have a crucial role to play in their children’s upbringing”. Central to this change was an increasingly specific reference to “fathers” as opposed to “parents” in policy frameworks.    

The 2003 Employment Act introduced two weeks paid paternity leave for the first time. It is an indicator of governments acknowledgement of the importance of fathers that new paternity leave rules have come into effect meaning that mothers and fathers will be legally entitled to share time off work during their baby's first year. This move means parents could take six months off work each and the government hopes to extend the measures with a fully flexible system of shared parental leave in 2015.

Research in the area of fathers’ influence on child development shows that where the father is positively involved with his children, in agreement with the mother, the children perform better socially and academically and have less-sex-stereotyped beliefs.   Importantly the research highlights that it is the father’s role as parent rather than as a man which is of most significance to his children.(Mary Ryan, Working with Fathers, 2000). The acceptance, by our political leaders, of the crucial importance fathers have in impacting on the life outcomes of their  children is to be applauded and nurtured.

Change has happened. Progress has been made. We need to recognise this fact and, more importantly, continue to build on the gains we have made.