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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
Head to head: fatherless families
The Damilola Taylor Centre in Peckham
Police investigating the murder of Damilola Taylor say none of the 11 initial suspects questioned had a father figure at home.

The officers said that to many boys living in inner city estates their street gangs had become surrogate families.

Matthew Stannard, from the charity Families Need Fathers, said a higher level of male parental involvement could have prevented the Damilola Taylor tragedy.

But Margaret Creear from Gingerbread, a charity supporting single parents, said other factors had more influence on a child's upbringing.


Matthew Stannard
Families Need Fathers

The fact that none of the 11 boys interviewed by police in connection with the Damilola Taylor case had a father figure in their lives is a tragedy in itself.

Father figures, if they live up to expectation, will command the loyalty and respect to counteract the destructive influence of the street gang and thereby act to prevent tragic consequences like the death of little Damilola.

An involved father figure - preferably the child's natural father because they are more likely to provide continuity and to take real pride in the job of parenting - can do much to influence his children's behaviour.

Research (by Ann Buchanan and Eirini Flouri at Oxford University) has shown that sons with involved fathers are less likely to be involved with the police.

Interestingly, the same research has shown that daughters with involved fathers are less likely to suffer from mental problems in later life - and this is independent of the level of mother involvement.

So fathers are good news.


Fatherhood should universally be recognised as one of the most significant vocations that a man can have.

Matthew Stannard
Families Need Fathers
Isn't it tragic that so many children don't get adequate father involvement when their parents' relationship ends?

This can be because of a mother's hostility or because the father doesn't take fatherhood seriously enough.

Provision of housing to single parents (usually mothers) does nothing to encourage father involvement.

There is in some quarters a sub-culture in which fatherhood is seen merely as proof of virility, with no associated responsibilities.

Fatherhood should universally be recognised as one of the most significant vocations that a man can have.

The fact that this isn't so is perhaps an indication that what we see in the gangs in Peckham is a second generation problem whose origins lie in misguided social policies that have been with us for too long.

If we are to redress this abhorrent situation then social policy must reflect that the involvement of fathers in their children's lives is essential.


Margaret Creear
Gingerbread

There are currently 1.7 million lone parents bringing up 2.9 million children.

Approximately a third to a half of the current generation of children will spend some time in a lone parent family.

In such a large section of the population there is a wide range of diversity. Most lone parents bring up their children perfectly well.

Many children in lone parent families do maintain contact with their non-resident parent. Obviously quality contact with the non-resident parent is preferable from an emotional and financial point of view.

But in many cases contact breaks down either because the non-resident parent drifts away or repartners.

In some cases non-resident parents have very restricted or no access because of the fear of violence or abuse.

Many children in lone parent families do have both male and female role models in their lives in the shape of parents, grandparents other relatives and friends.

There is an unquestioned assumption in much of the coverage that any male role models which might be available to the boys if they lived in a couple family would be positive.

It might be better to discuss what qualities would be useful to children in finding a positive role for themselves in our society where traditional gender roles are changing.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation concludes that the absence of a parent-figure is not the most influential feature of separation for children's development.


Coming from a lone parent family is only one factor the boys have in common along with glaring poverty and social exclusion.

Margaret Creear
Gingerbread
Poor outcomes for children are related to financial hardship, family conflict before during and after separation, and parental ability to cope with this.

Coming from a lone parent family is only one factor the boys have in common along with glaring poverty and social exclusion.

My experience of working for Gingerbread, and incidentally of living in Southwark and knowing Peckham well, is that the most beneficial debate we can have now is how to address the high levels of poverty and social exclusion of both adults and children in the area.

We also need to improve housing as the council has started to do, and develop accessible, non stigmatising services.

These include a high quality youth service and childcare, providing jobs and training in the area, as well as emotional support and practical advice for parents and children who are experiencing difficulties.

See also:

28 Apr 02 | England
Damilola's father criticises judge
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