Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 9 June 2011

On Sunday I dropped in on an open day held jointly by Plympton Fire Station and the Plymouth branch of Families Need Fathers. The sky was trying to remember how to rain at the time but there were a steady trickle of dads and lads pressing buttons and pulling levers on fire engines.
Only the most ardent feminist would deny that children need a father and a mother. Of course there are cases where tragedy intervenes early to deprive a family of one or sometimes both parents and when that happens we are pretty good at rallying around. But what about the vast majority of cases where the family is rent asunder by two adults, married or not, splitting up and leaving the kids in uncertainty? Is the current system biased towards the parent with care (usually but not always the mother) and too harsh on the absent parent/father? That is the primary argument trumpeted by the support groups for fathers, sometimes from the rooftops.
Over the years I must have dealt with over 500 Child Support Agency cases and no advice surgery is complete without a smattering of mums or dads complaining bitterly about the conduct of his or her former partner and the alleged injustice of the system that is being too lenient or too brutal in seeking correction.
Since Sunday I have reflected on whether there is an inbuilt bias by the CSA or the Family Courts against men. I cannot honestly say that there is. I have seen both mums genuinely hard done by and dads hard done by. I have sometimes seen some dads treated badly, but also many cases where they seem to deserve it.
My conclusion is that when parents split up no agency can intervene in a perfect way to compensate. There is bound to be a measure of rough justice in any decision that is made by any third party. The CSA has been a huge disappointment, but nobody knows how to significantly improve it.
Some relationships will fail, but I have seen many cases where the children have been, as far as one can tell, protected from most of the strife. But this only happens, not where the state intervenes, but where mum and dad bend over backwards to make their new living arrangements work for the children.
The state can only achieve so much. The key responsibility for the welfare of children has to remain with parents. 

posted by Gary @ 20:23