Page last updated at 01:55 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Fathers to be offered more help

Father and baby
Being there at the birth can mean fathers stay more involved

Fathers are to be offered more support in bringing up children, under new plans being set out by the government.

Ministers will say employers and health and children's services in England all need to recognise the role fathers have in caring for children.

Fathers will be given more information before a child's birth to encourage them to be responsible parents.

Grandparents are also to be given extra recognition, with an automatic right of contact with their grandchildren.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls said: "By giving families and grandparents the right information and advice, they can remain in control over how and when to access help and support when they are under pressure and their relationships are suffering."

'Custody battles'

The government's Families and Relationship Green Paper sets out a wide range of measures to support all families.

The Conservatives are also expected to outline their policies on the family later on Wednesday.

Under the government's plans, separating couples will be strongly encouraged to seek mediation rather than going to the family courts to settle problems.

This, it is hoped, will help avoid costly and damaging custody battles, often funded through legal aid by the taxpayer.

Statistics suggest many separating couples end up in a revolving door of court appearances, which can be both stressful and damaging.

Settling differences through mediation services could be quicker and far less stressful, ministers argue.

Research suggests fathers who are involved with the birth of a child are more likely to stay involved in the child's first three years of life.

Caring for children is not a role just for mums
DCSF spokesman

And longer term involvement leads to children having higher self-esteem, educational achievement and fewer behavioural problems, research says.

Recent studies suggest more and more fathers are sharing and even taking over responsibility for childcare.

This is, in part, fuelled by the rise in the number of women returning to work after having children and also by men losing their jobs in the economic downturn.

The Family and Parenting Institute suggests that fathers will lead the changes to family structure to come, but many child and family services remain very focused on women.

Mr Balls and Andy Burnham will be hosting a summit later this week with health visitors, midwives, charities and new fathers to address how they can be helped to get more involved.

'Myth-busting guide'

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said: "Caring for children is not a role just for mums. Health and children's services and employers need to recognise this.

"By giving fathers more information before the birth of the child, we can encourage and support them to fulfil their responsibilities - especially if they are young and disadvantaged.

"Both parents are equally responsible for their child's health, so dads need information too."

A booklet for new fathers is being drawn up to give tailored advice and tips to fathers ahead of a new birth.

Written with the Fatherhood Institute, it will be a myth-busting guide about how fathers can be just as good hands-on carers as mothers.

It will also offer advice about legal issues like registering the birth, health issues for both parents, communicating with the baby and keeping him or her safe, providing financially and maintaining a good relationship with the mother.

A spokesman for Families Need Fathers said it had been lobbying to make proper mediation compulsory before attending court, and that it was encouraged that the government would now consult on this.

He also welcomed the fact that grandparents were now recognised as a vital part of a child's life.

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