The narrative that fathers should “step up to the plate” is an outrageous one, given how many fathers are denied access to their children by malicious ex-partners in league with the corrupt family court system. So when the narrative comes from Mr Justice McFarlane, who will replace Sir James Munby as president of the family division in the High Court next month, the outrage is doubled.
A piece by Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson (why do male journalists so rarely cover such family issues?) in today’s Times:
Fathers must be encouraged to “step up to the plate” and play a more active role in their children’s lives after warnings that boys are joining gangs to find male role models, according to Britain’s new top family judge.
Mr Justice McFarlane, who will take over as president of the family division of the High Court next month, said it was important for children to have a relationship with both parents even if they were separated.
“The role of fathers in families is important,” he told The Times. “A decent role model and two parents can be important positive influences. We need to make sure, where possible, that the child has a decent relationship with both parents.”
Asked whether absent fathers could be a factor in the rise of gang culture, he said it was important for all fathers to play a role in their children’s lives. “There is always a father and children need to connect with them. It’s even harder when there may be three fathers for a mother’s three children. It’s quite difficult for the fathers to come in, but they might have something to offer.”
Although he stressed that he was not an expert on gangs, he said: “Fathers are just as important as mothers, if you are a child, genetically and in terms of your identity; they are 50 per cent of you, they are another pair of hands, another brain, another option. They may be more able at a certain time to help the child. It’s a matter of encouraging them to step up to the plate.”
Cressida Dick, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, is among those who have suggested that the absence of a father is a factor driving some boys into gangs.
David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said that boys needed role models and that “in the absence of a father, young men can draw their masculine identity from their peers”. The former minister, who conducted a review of the treatment of ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system, said that higher paternal absence in some black communities made boys vulnerable. He blamed “colonial slave pathologies” going back hundreds of years.
“There’s a phenomenon in Caribbean communities called baby father — that way of describing your husband comes right back to slavery. It’s basically that he doesn’t own his child, because he could be shipped around. Those issues ricochet down generations, they exist in African-American communities, Caribbean communities and they play out in this country. That’s not an excuse for not parenting your child, or stabbing an individual, but they are important pathologies in families.”
Mr Justice McFarlane said that there was a “crisis of numbers” in the courts as a result of the growing number of children taken into care. “After Baby P, a colleague said it was a tsunami but it wasn’t — the water level has risen,” he added.
Adoptions, however, have fallen by about 20 per cent since a ruling by Sir James Munby, the outgoing president of the family division, that social services must provide “proper evidence” that all alternatives had been considered.
Mr Justice McFarlane said that he supported Sir James’s ruling but insisted it “wasn’t intended to make adoptions go up or down. It was meant to set out for the judges the process of analysis they had to go through.”
The courts should not determine a “correct” number of children being adopted, he added. “We don’t want a particular number of adoptions, high or low; we want the right outcome in the particular case.”
Sir James has called for a reform of divorce law to end blame between couples and the “hypocrisy” of the system. Mr Justice McFarlane said of no-fault divorce: “I am not going to be drawn on that save to say you won’t find a single family judge that is against it.”
The law is evolving, he said, pointing to surrogacy, which is controversial because the woman giving birth is treated as the legal mother and has the right to keep the child. “The law has to provide a structure and solutions for family life. Our understanding of family life has changed radically.”
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