Vulnerable fathers are excluded from their families, says study

VULNERABLE fathers in Ireland are distrusted, misjudged and excluded from a full parenting role.

They are often regarded with suspicion by State agencies on the basis of prejudice, hearsay and the view that mothers are the best nurturers of children.

Many men feel they are “locked out” on the basis of their appearance and labelled dangerous, despite any evidence to back up this assumption, according to a study carried out for the Department of Social Affairs.

Minister for Social Affairs Séamus Brennan yesterday said the time has come for a re-examination of our attitudes to some fathers and their role in the family.

“One trend that is becoming more evident in recent years is the pressures on family life as a result of increased work-related demands. For fathers, this can mean that the time available to participate in family life is often limited and disjointed,” he said.

The report, Strengthening Families Through Fathers, was completed under the Government’s Family Research Programme and was co-funded by the Family Support Agency and the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

Mr Brennan said: “The findings make it clear that we should be re-examining our attitudes to some fathers and their role in the family. It is highlighted in this report that vulnerable fathers love their children just as much as other parents.”

In the report a ‘vulnerable father’ is defined as a man who is known to be struggling to be a good enough parent due to having involvement with social services and family support agencies. The report documents a qualitative study based on interviews with 24 ‘vulnerable’ fathers, 12 mothers, 12 children and 20 professionals.

The Unmarried & Separated Fathers of Ireland said last night that the focus of the report was too narrow and called for more ongoing studies.

Spokesman Ray Kelly said: “This is only the tip of the iceberg. We need much more research like this and to see it implemented into Government policy.”

Mr Kelly claimed there were over 150,000 fathers without regular access to their children in Ireland.

He added: “Denying access rights to fathers leads to anger, loneliness, depression and suicide in some cases.”

‘I got a lot of hassle from social services ... because I looked like a hard man’

ONE father of three teenagers yesterday described his struggle to be with his children when they were younger.

‘George’, from Cork, now has sole custody of his children but for years he endured the anguish of being locked out of his own home by his wife, who was mentally ill.

“I got a lot of hassle from the social services,” said George. “I have a shaved head, tattoos and look rough but deep down I’m a nice guy. I used to be removed from the house because I looked like a hard man whereas my wife was educated.”

At one stage he was unable to see his children for 11 months.

Eventually, George’s wife left the family home because her illness made her unable to look after the children. George moved back in and took on the parenting role.

Speaking to Marian Finucane on RTÉ radio, he said: “I remember one evening I was giving my son his dinner and the guards arrived. They said they had got a phone call to say that I was not looking after my son.

My son was standing there. They quizzed him. He was a boxer and a runner and an Irish champion so he could not have reached that level if he wasn’t being fed properly.”

George’s saving grace came in the form of a social welfare worker who recognised his qualities. “We got on really well and if it wasn’t for her I would not have gotten through it. My son and daughters are fine today. We all are.”

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