Paul Apreda is National Manager of FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru. Here he explains why men in Wales need more help and support than they currently receive from the Welsh Government.
Over the last five years as National Manager for the charity in Wales I’ve seen literally hundreds of cases of parents who’ve turned to us for help. Most just want to see their kids.
We started – like our sister charity in England, Families Need Fathers – by providing, information and support to parents and grandparents who are excluded from the lives of their children. Rapidly we moved into providing advice –joining Advice UK – as well as advocacy, despite the fact that we have almost no resources. We even help parents and grandparents deal with Children’s Services in child protection and Public Law issues.
It’s not just dads we help -but most who need us are men. So what do we do – and why do we do it? Probably the best way to illustrate that is to share some of our stories.
Helping male victims of domestic violence
Will is a 40 something dad in South Wales. He split up from his ‘ex last year and now she won’t let him see the kids. A family mediator sent him to us as she was worried about his mental state caused by not seeing the children he loves. His ex has ignored two letters from solicitors and an approach from the mediator. Mum’s brother and her cousins have physically assaulted him twice – fortunately on CCTV so they are awaiting trial for that. His GP has diagnosed him as a victim of domestic violence which has seriously impacted on his emotional well-being.
I undertook the CAADA-DASH risk indicator checklist with him and he scored 18 out of 24 – making him very high risk. I referred him to the local MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference) only to find that they didn’t want to accept him as a victim because the Mum was already recognised as high risk on their system.
Then HE was arrested for harassment on the grounds that he sent text messages and phone calls to his ‘ex trying to see the children. The Police ‘tactfully’ arrested him away from South Wales when he was visiting his elderly mother in her care home. After keeping in the cells overnight they charged him with the offence. We’ve helped him get Legal Aid for contact and have arranged for a criminal solicitor to defend him against the harassment charge.
Dads excluded from kids' lives
Another dad – let’s call him Nathan – has just been ‘evicted’ from the hostel where he was living with his ex partner and young child. They haven’t given him a reason. Our volunteer advocate who has helped him try to find the reasons for his removal has had a complaint against her of harassment by the hostel manager. We’re helping Nathan mount an appeal against the eviction and to bring his case in the Family Court.
A third dad – we’ll call him Evan – had a letter from his daughter’s primary school telling him that they couldn’t communicate with him about his daughter as the mum said he didn’t have Parental Responsibility. Children’s Services put the children on the child protection register and tried to stop them from seeing Evan. We went with him to countless child protection meetings and eventually Children’s Services gave up – but not after the social worker told the three teenage girls that if they said they wanted to see their dad they could be taken into care!
From my perspective we are dealing with a culture of ‘institutionalised sexism’. Men are seen as a danger at worst and an irrelevance at best. I’ve known this was the case for years but have said to many people that if I used the phrase publically it would be an admission of defeat.
We can do better than this
The Fatherhood Institute has produced research in Wales showing that one Council’s children’s services department has improved its engagement with dads from 47% to 82% for those invited to take part in the Core Assessment. We have proposed to Welsh Government that ALL local authorities should be monitored on their father engagement with Children’s Services. They have declined.
We produced our own research about the engagement of parenting support services with men. This found that across 33 services and 169,000 service users the average participation level for men was between 3 and 11% of all parents. We proposed that services should be asked to report on the extent to which they engage with men. The Welsh Government refused – telling me in a face to face meeting that ‘it would be too difficult to do’.
But there is some light at the end of the tunnel! Following a successful challenge we made to a Welsh Government Equalities Impact Assessment I started a dialogue with the officials in their Equalities division. It appears that the Welsh Government have been labouring under the misapprehension that there are no bodies or organisations that represent men in Wales. I was abe to share the good news with them. We are here – and we’re not giving up.
- It's men's responsibility to make gender work a reality (Dr Neil Wooding, ONS)
- Why can't men and women work together for equality (Anita Copley, National Assembly for Wales)
- The struggle to make a difference for male victims of domestic violence in Wales (Tony Stott, Healing Men)
- Official thinking on equality and diversity in Wales excluding men (Glen Poole, insideMAN)