Issued by Treoir
Tuesday October 17, 2023.
Call for early intervention services for ‘non-resident’ fathers
Report recommends ‘Child Contact Centres’ for families not living together affected by housing
Reform of Guardianship for non-married fathers needs to progress
A new report on the experiences of fathers who do not live with their children – has recommended a series of early intervention services to support stronger relationships with their children.
The report, commissioned by Treoir, focuses on the experiences of ‘non-resident fathers’ in challenging circumstances, and identified particular difficulties faced by these Dads in co-parenting.
Treoir CEO Damien Peelo said a core recommendation is that community organisations who provide prevention and early intervention programmes throughout the country develop specific services for families who will not live together – and particularly outreach that targets fathers.
“The aim of these social interventions would be to work supportively with parents to: Plan for co-parenting roles, division of responsibilities and communication; involve children in parenting arrangements; navigate mediation and the courts; and understand domestic abuse in relation to signs, symptoms, and available supports.”
A further recommendation is the development of a national network of ‘child contact centres’ where non-resident fathers could meet their children in circumstances where housing is a barrier to access.
“It is recommended that appropriately placed community organisations be funded to facilitate a space for fathers to access their families, in circumstances when homelessness or suitable housing is an issue and where access is safe and appropriate.”
The need to develop systems for fathers is highlighted in fact that Dads are non-resident in 20% of Irish families. Over 350,000 children live in one parent families – and 86% of these are headed by a mother.
The report titled Establishing Meaningful Relationships between Children and Fathers who Do Not Live Together: Challenges and Solutions found that all parents who took part experienced significant difficulty in navigating parenting arrangements.
It found that: “Negative experiences in family court, a lack of access to mediation services, poor enforcement of access and maintenance arrangements, and a lack of emotional and mental health support for every family member contributed towards an overall view that the needs of mothers, fathers, and children, are not being met by the current statutory and non-statutory systems of service provision.”
However, Mr Peelo added that in situations where domestic abuse and / or other challenging behaviours are present the report’s recommendations come with strong caveats.
Eight organisations worked together to coordinate the work including Treoir, Daughters of Charity Child and Family Service, Doras Buí, From Lads to Dads, Men’s Development Network, One Family, SPARK, and Women’s Aid. It included a mix of research methods comprising interviews, desk research and a survey. The survey included the experiences of 63 parents and in the majority of circumstances parents were unhappy (53%) with their current arrangements.
Responding to the research a father of a young child, and who is sharing parenting, described the difficulties he faced.
“After the breakup, there was anger and bitterness from both of us. We both love our son. So even when the relationship ended, we knew that we both had that in common. We both wanted to avoid going to court as we felt that it would increase the tension. Anything we read online was talking about my rights and her rights, rather than encouraging us to work together.
“The only option to see my son, outside of going to court, was by the mother’s agreement which was difficult initially when we were both angry. I was frustrated also with the access and custody laws in Ireland for unmarried fathers.
“I think it would really help if there were more support for fathers and families who are going through this. To be able to speak to other Dads who’d struggled with this or to have mediation more easily available and accessible would really help Mums and Dads to share parenting in a healthier way.
He was also frustrated with how people he spoke to didn’t seem to understand the issue he was having. The assumption was that the mother should have the majority of the custody.
“When I talked to people about how I was co-parenting and I didn’t get to see my son as much as I would like to, they didn’t seem to understand the problem. The assumption was that the mother should have the majority of the custody. The laws in Ireland are not the same as in other countries, and it should not be the case that the mother is automatically assumed to have primary custody.”
Damien Peelo added that the research amplified the need for reform of Guardianship for non-married fathers. (Guardianship is the rights and responsibilities that a person has in relation to a child.)
“A pathway is needed for fathers who are not married to attain Guardianship. The government is due to release a report on Guardianship for unmarried fathers – this needs to progress together with a register of guardians.” Other recommendations in the report include:
- To develop more collaboration between mediation and family support services
- To map existing early intervention programmes for fathers and families, and expand those which are proven to be effective into more communities.
Quality Matters Co-founder and Lead Researcher Aoife Dermody said the findings highlighted a serious need for reform of supports for non-traditional family structures.
“We know that children should be loved and cared for by both parents, where they have two parents, and it is possible and safe to do so. Fathers and mothers in this research both wanted the father to spend more time with their children, but often found navigating these non-traditional parenting arrangements was challenging.
“For the well-being of children, early intervention and mediation supports need to be more widely available and accessible. Fathers that are not living with their children also need to have access to practical supports to enable them to foster a positive relationship with their children.”
The report was launched by Independent Senator Eileen Flynn who said there are many further strong themes including a need for the voice of the child to be heard, but that despite serious challenges most fathers and mothers agreed on wanting fathers to have a more active role.
“Children thrive best when they have a strong relationship with both parents. This research tells us that to do this we need more focus, interventions and services targeted at Dads.
Ronan Cavanagh, Cavanagh Communications: (086) 317 9731.
Treoir is the National Information Service for unmarried parents and their children providing clear and up-to-date information free of charge to parents who are not married to each other and to those involved with them. www.treoir.ie