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MENZ Issues May 1998: Volume 3 Issue 4

Men’s Centre North Shore News New meeting venue, radio programme, phone bills, etc.

Social & Family Responsibility Code Men’s Centre North Shore Submission.

Matrimonial Property Act amendmentFARE (Families Apart Require Equality). Call for action on joint custody.

Social Welfare – who actually benefits?

Forsaking Our Children by John M Hagedorn – Book Review.

Pigs,Heroes or Wimps? New Zealand fathers at the turn of the century. A summary of Wellington researcher Paul Callister’s keynote address to the Fathering the Future Forum.

‘Fathering The Future’ A Success Report of concerns over obstacles to positive fathering. (From the Father & Child Trust. Ch.Ch.)

Christchurch Men’s Health Day

Nelson Dad’s Group

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Men’s Centre North Shore News

New meeting venue: our monthly meeting for members and guests will continue at 7.30pm on the third Monday of each month. They will be held at the Northcote Community House, which is behind the Northcote Library, 200m from our old rooms.

Men’s Hour Radio show changed to first Monday each month – same time (6pm – 7pm) – have you listened in yet? Access Radio 810 AM

Telephone: when our phone bills climbed to over $150 per month recently it became obvious that we could not afford to continue paying commercial rates. Because our line is always diverted to a committee member’s home, we are being charged for incoming as well as outging calls. A generous member has donated $500 for a year’s use of a line at domestic rates, and we are waiting to hear if our application for sponsorship from Telecom has been granted, which will allow us to continue using 480 2168. We are grateful for support received from the Takapuna CAB and local MP Grant Gillon.

Custody, Access and Guardianship Meeting 6th May

– hosted by Shore Fathers. Everyone welcome – details here.

Sponsors Wanted – this edition of MENZ Issues is being mailed to 250 Auckland men, and distributed to aproximately 150 members of other NZ men’s groups. If you want to tell them about your product or service contact the editor.

New Zealand men’s / fathers’ groups

– distribute MENZ Issues to your members – bulk copies available. If you haven’t done so already, join or start a group in your community!

Social & Family Responsibility Code – MCNS Submission

The Men’s Centre North Shore (Inc.) is a community-based organisation of about 50 members assisting men and fathers across a range of concerns, in particular family and social matters, in Auckland and on the North Shore. As such, we consider we are well placed to comment on the Code. We met several times to discuss the Code, and will confine our response to Issues 1 and 7.

While the MCNS is aware that the Code proposal and its accompanying documentation has been already subject to much criticism from the liberal left and advocates of bigger government generally, we, coming from a more traditional viewpoint, find several features in some of the questions and background documentation of real concern. It indicates a particular mindset among the framers of the Code. Specifically, while there is considerable emphasis on personal responsibility, which we applaud, in the Issues ‘Looking After Our Children’ and ‘Shared Parenthood’ (1 and 7) the only places where specific examples of responsibility are mentioned relate to the obligations of fathers as non-custodial parents, which are spelled out in detail, as are the provisions of the applicable legislation. Fathers are with few exceptions willing to accept full responsibility for fatherhood but would be concerned to see that government sees them as the only group with responsibilities.

The last pica point on the Fact Sheet for Issue 1 in discussing child abuse makes some unwarranted slurs on men by linking two unrelated sentences: "Abuse is often associated with other forms of family violence. A recent New Zealand survey of the abuse of women showed that 2% of women with partners and 22% of those recently separated had experienced 10 or more acts of physical or sexual abuse."

We would contest the figures and challenge the implication – that men have the major role in child abuse. We acknowledge that partner abuse is higher at separation but wonder if the government is aware or interested that self-harm by men is also much higher at separation? Men at that time are nearly 12 times more likely to suicide than women. Given the bad deal men fathers get from the law and the Family Courts, as recently forthrightly confirmed by no less than the Governor General, this is not surprising. Our work with suicidal men over recent years confirms this and we venture to say that most would find the emphasis and implications in the Code documents outlined above quite offensive and wrong.

The questions "What more can we all do to encourage fathers to play a more active part in bringing up their children?" and "Where parents are separated, what more can be done to support the rights of the child to have contact with both parents on a regular basis?" could also be considered insulting by many fathers, especially non-custodial fathers, but since we do not consider that you intend to be offensive, we ask you to consider the following points.

The Family Court by expectation and in practice assumes mother custody in nearly all cases. There is an institutional bias against the concept of joint custody as the default arrangement. We suggest that a rebuttable presumption of joint custody be seriously studied and introduced into family law.

Courts must start taking breaches of access orders seriously and penalise custodial mothers who infringe by denying or without good reason restrict a father’s access.

The Domestic Violence Act in our experience is being misused, to the detriment of fathers and their children. We view with grave concern how, in a democracy, the police and the judiciary are being "educated" along anti-father lines by particular lobby groups.

False allegations under that Act and other allegations of sexual abuse that upon investigation are found to be knowingly false must lead to charges against the person making the allegation. The police and CYPS need to look again at what they are doing here which is adversely impacting on fathers.

Employers need encouragement to make the provisions of paternal leave known and available to fathers, who must be able to avail themselves of it without penalty. As well, to allow fathers a similar tolerance given mothers to care for the health and educational needs of their children that often crop up during working hours.

Government needs to recognise that children do much better in intact two- parent families, in health, social factors and in their education. Conversely, research is now amassing that father-absence is strongly associated with a high degree of child-dysfunction on almost all common social indicators. The MCNS is willing to assist the Government with research and other material should this be seen as a priority for Government action. Men and fathers need to be consulted much more than in the past.

One simple way the Government can address this, if it believes the intact two-parent family unit is desirable, which we sometimes wonder, would be to restore the tax and welfare incentives to such families, and reverse the current state-administered financial incentives women have to be sole parents. In tandem with that, the status of marriage must be restored, so that men, as present or potential fathers, have incentives to get married and stay married, and that women do likewise. No-fault divorce may suit the individualist ethic but it is not good for communities and is the antithesis of personal responsibility for others, especially children.

Often both parents need to be taught parenting skills, along with better communication and conflict-resolution. There needs to be a presumption among counsellors and similar people, especially in the Family Court setting that marriages can work. Too often, men that we deal with report that counsellors have been biased against both them and against the marriage.

Schools should encourage more involvement by fathers and not, as at present, often put obstacles in the path of non-custodial fathers when there is no legal reason for the father not to have contact with and information about his children.

More research on fathering is required and the adverse impact on children of fatherlessness, well-established overseas, needs to be replicated in this country. This will not be a politically popular line to follow but it must be done.

To restore some sort of parental balance in the lives of children, a Ministry of the Family needs to be set up, funding coming entirely from the dismantled Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Commission for Children. When that Commission’s focus groups on fathering are run by a woman, however skilled and competent she may be, and when the majority of the fathering project team have been women, serious questions of credibility and intent must be raised. Such findings as may emanate will have as much credibility to men, as any similar project on mothering would have, run by men, to women. The "gender analysis" of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs could then be replaced by a "family analysis".

These are just some of our concerns and suggestions. We are available to discuss or assist in any positive way, since we believe that some sort of Code of Social and Family Responsibility is required.

Mark Rowley

Matrimonial Property Act amendment

Major strategic initiative for gender equality from Families Apart Require Equality.

A significant change in family law legislation, the Matrimonial Property Act (MPA), will be passed in 1998. Two Bills to amend the MPA received their first readings last month. The chance to lobby and make submissions to the Select Committee will come soon. The original MPA passed 20 years ago introduced a new principle, that of 50:50 sharing for property.

We must use the fact that the new MPA bill is before parliament to seek the same 50:50 sharing for custody of children!

They will be hard pressed to have one rule for property and at the same time maintain the preference for unequal sole custody. This is a chance to get pro-active and hit the system when it has opened up legislation for change. Lets stop navel gazing about fatherhood versus motherhood and demand true parental equality in 1998!

The latest MPA Bills introduce a number of significant modification to the original MPA, these changes are by themselves very important.

  • The 50:50 sharing of property can be overridden by the new MPA to give additional property to the custodial parent.
  • Wills will be overridden by the new MPA, giving the same 50:50 sharing as if the marriage had broken down.
  • The 50:50 sharing principle will be extended to defacto relationships.

We are also analysing the Bills to see if there is provision for making future earnings divisible matrimonial property. They tried to do this by stealth in 1996 using the Courts but FARE and FREE turned up at the Court of Appeal in Wellington with TV, radio and press and forced the Court to admit us a ‘friends of the court’. They treated us like blacks trying to gatecrash a Klu Klux Klan meeting but they had to throw out the case because the public had been alerted.

The new MPA legislation has come out of the blue like the Child Support Act did in 1991, with no real public discussion or warning that it was coming. Once they have the Bill before the House they try to ignore all independent public input. This was true with the Child Support Act; a number of excellent submissions to the Select Committee warning it would be a disaster were ignored, and when forced to do the Trapski Review they still ignored the submissions. We won’t tolerate this again, not with the new MPA or any other future family legislation.

The process with the new MPA is typical of what we have seen before. Having got the 50:50 rule established they want to extend it into new areas, building a whole new set of social policy rules step by step. It is like a ‘ratchet’. Well, if they can use it for their private agenda, so can we to get what we want.

We propose FARE will make a submission to the Select Committee applauding the 50:50 principle and at the same time proposing an amendment to the MPA Bill bringing in preferential joint custody, with 50:50 sharing of custody between mothers and fathers as the desirable starting point. Preferential joint custody is now used in 48 states in the USA and it is proven to be very successful. The idea with preferential joint custody is that the parenting of mothers and fathers is treated equally (just like the MPA in New Zealand!), and there is no custodial and non custodial parent.

OK, someone will argue that custody is covered by the Guardianship Act. So what! The Government will use this new MPA to override wills which are normally covered by the Testamentary / Succession legislation, so why can’t the MPA also override the Guardianship Act? Similarly the Child Support Act 1991 defines ‘eligible custodian’ and ‘liable parent’, effectively overriding the Guardianship Act. Especially, consider the mentality of the Child Support Act whereby the ‘liable parent’ is recognised as being nothing other than a revenue source, making solecustody of children a tangible financial benefit to the custodial parent, reducing our children to the status of matrimonial property!

This attempt by us to get 50:50 custody needs to be a collective effort. We will need to coordinate, pool ideas, share the lobbying and make coordinted submissions. If we do this right we can create a proposition they will have to act on!

  • FARE will draft its submission and circulate it for comment.
  • FARE can mail copies of the new legislation to anyone who wants it.
  • FARE will also try to track what is going on and keep you all informed.

Please circulate this document to anyone you know who might be interested in helping.

Bruce Tichbon and others.

More on FARE here.

Social Welfare – who actually benefits?

Social security began in New Zealand in 1898, with the passage of the Old Age Pensions Act. By 1902 William Pember Reeves, minister of Labour in the first Liberal Government was able to say that "Dire poverty in New Zealand is almost confined to the aged, the disabled workers, to deserted wives and children, and to a few loafers, drunkards, and weaklings."

A century later, during which time this country continued to pioneer the welfare state and re-distributed untold millions of dollars in the process, it is clear to most people that despite all the good intentions things have got worse. Some still argue that the answer is higher taxes and yet more benefits, but others claim that with less and less tax-payers supporting more and more beneficiaries, the system is not sustainable in the long term.

Instead of eradicating poverty forever as our forefathers hoped, we seem to have created a growing, permanent underclass that already comprises around a third of the population, and which threatens to bankrupt our future economy. However, many critics of the welfare state in recent years believe that the most serious consequences have been the negative effect on the character of the beneficiaries, and the breakdown of the nuclear family.

1927 Bronislaw Malinowski, founder of the science of sociology wrote " I know of no single instance in anthropological literature of a community where illegitimate children, that is children of unmarried girls, would enjoy the same social treatment and have the same social status as legitimate ones. The universal postulate of legitimacy has a great sociological significance… It means that in all human societies moral tradition and the law decree that the group consisting of a woman and her offspring is not a socially complete unit. The ruling of culture runs here…it declares that the human family must consist of a male as well as a female."

Between 1976 and 1991, the proportion of single parent families nearly doubled to 17%, the fastest growing category in New Zealand. By contrast, traditional male-breadwinner families only accounted for 13.5% of the total.

The expansion of the welfare state

In New Zealand the Domestic Purposes Benefit was introduced in 1973. Relatively generous government handouts became available to mothers provided they did not work or live with an employed man. This immediately made low-paid working men a financial handicap, and created a "perverse incentive" for marriages to split (or just appear to split in many cases). At the same time, for many poor, uneducated women, having an illegitimate child became the most attractive and secure financial option available. The number of fatherless families sky-rocketed.

Breakdown of the Nuclear Family

In "Farewell to the Family", a 1995 book by British author Patricia Morgan writes that benefits "create incentives for individuals to change their behaviour to continue qualifying, so the size of the poverty population may be increased by welfare dependency. In cases of divorce, many men simply do not have the resources to support sets of children from serial marriages. Therefore we have to ask if what appears to be an economic problem might be rather the economic manifestation of a social phenomenon". With this statement Morgan makes it clear that the structure of families is changing for other reasons besides the welfare system. However it is equally clear that economic incentives play a powerful role in shaping human behaviour.

Morgan describes in detail the current situation in Britain, where income support rules treat solo mothers more generously than families, and where additional payments from the family credit scheme are made to lone parents.

In July 1996, New Zealand took the same step when the rules regarding supplementary earnings by DPB recipients were changed. Lone parents can now earn $80 each week without loss of benefit, and loose only 30 cents in the dollar of the next $100. Above $180 the abatement rate is set at 70 cents. Under the new regime subsidised childcare for pre-school children is extended to 6 hours per day.

This package means that some parents who might have otherwise married, now stay single to keep the extra income. It also puts pressure on some existing marriages, particularly those who are unemployed or on low incomes, when the partners figure out they can enjoy a higher standard of living if they split up.

Many two parent families, including the working poor as well as the unemployed, are disadvantaged by these policies, particularly the traditional situation where the father works and the mother supplies the childcare. Increasing numbers of men are staying single. Couples who do get married are increasingly choosing to not have children, or to delay it as long as possible. The married birthrate has collapsed, contributing to the dramatic rise in the percentage of births to unmarried women.

Future trends towards casual employment, part time work, self employment, short-term contracts, and work portfolios will be more favourable to women on benefits than to men trying to support a family on one income.

The effect on Children and Values Children brought up in households with unemployed adults are more likely to be unemployed themselves, partly because they don’t learn a work ethic. Children of lone parents have lower educational achievement. They have more health problems and they are more likely to commit crimes. Children of divorce are less likely to marry, more likely to divorce if they do and girls are more likely to end up lone-parents.

Means-tested welfare payments penalise those who have desirable values such as savings, hard work (part time or temporary work reduces benefit) and honesty (when making income declarations.) In 1995-96 The Social Welfare benefit crime unit uncovered fraud by 53,256 people itotalling $65.5 million. A huge "grey market" exists where services and products are sold for "folding" (ie: cash). Regrettably, "ripping off the system" has become an artform in some sectors of our society.

Many young men with nothing to do all day tend to stay in bed until late then roam the streets at night, instead of sleeping at home after a hard day’s work. If we genuinely want to build safer communities we should develop policies that encourage and support men to work (even at low rates of pay), and to be a committed part of a family unit. Marriage is the key to socialising males.

Reforming the welfare state is not likely to be an easy task, and as the author of the book reviewed in the following artical points out there are considerable dangers that single-minded efforts to cut welfare expenditure without paying close attention to evaluating the effects of what social service providers actually do is likely to make the current situation considerably worse.

John Potter.

Book Review: Forsaking Our Children

The 1995 book Forsaking Our Children, Bureaucracy and Reform in the Child Welfare System by John M Hagedorn, tells the story of the author’s unsuccessful attempt to reform the Milwaukee Dept of Health and Human Services. His brief was to "fundamentally reorient" services for youth, and he began by studying what kind of work the front-line social workers did.

He discovered that they delivered almost no actual ‘services’ at all, and that in fact they spent nearly all of their time investigating child abuse allegations, doing the enormous amount of paperwork required to take custody away from the parents, and attending the numerous court hearings necessary to facilitate this. Their entire focus was on removing children from mainly poor families and placing them in foster homes. Because of a high staff turnover, workers were sent out to investigate families with little or no training, and one supervisor explained "that her ill-trained workers sometimes commit in effect a second sexual assault on the child by the way they conduct their investigation."

Hagedorn argues that the pressures of conservative efforts in the 1980s to reduce welfare spending led the bureaucracy to concentrate their activities on "saving children", which for political reasons is safe from the budget axe. In Milwaukee the number of child protective social workers reached their peak in 1973 with 358 funded positions. In that year only 1286 referrals were called in. It was only after this major expansion of staff, and corresponding pressure for budget cuts in the Carter and Regan years, that child abuse referrals shot up, busting the 9,000 mark in 1991…. "Increased referrals did not prompt hiring more social workers, but more social workers were hired and then referrals increased."

He points out that there has always been a debate within the social work profession between "those who advocate removing the children from the poor to ‘save’ them and others who focus more on strengthening poor families, rebuilding the neighbourhoods where they live, and expanding opportunities." Hagedorn considers that "the expansion of social services in the 1970s had little correlation to improved services for children and their families. Rather the chief beneficiaries of increased social service spending have been urban social service bureaucracies, who have used the funds to adapt to a punitive climate, expanding their capacity to investigate poor families and remove children from their homes."

Despite the fact that almost 75% of the funds for child welfare services were spent on foster-care supervision and payments, the saved children did not always appear to benefit. Research showed that "two thirds of all the boys and one third of all the girls who first appeared in Milwaukee’s child welfare system as abused or neglected later returned to the Children’s Court as delinquents."

Hagedorn concludes that framing the debate about welfare in terms of the traditional liberal (more funding) vs. conservative (less funding) arguments, is unlikely to result in improving the situation for needy people. Instead he argues that gains can be made only by changing the basic structure of the core tasks that social service workers perform.

J.P.

Pigs, Heroes or Wimps?

New Zealand fathers at the turn of the century.

A sumary of Wellington researcher Paul Callister’s keynote address to the Christchurch Fathering the Future Forum. He began:

"One thing that studying ‘fathers’ has taught me is that there is an incredible diversity of opinion about ‘fatherhood’ ". Much of this opinion is based not on research, but instead on one’s own personal experiences. These experiences are, in turn, often influenced by religious beliefs or stereotypes portrayed in the media. To make the investigation of fatherhood even more complex, the research often provides conflicting data, with methodologies and interpretation of findings heavily influenced by the belief systems of the researchers."

Callister went on to examine the ‘traditional’ role for fathers, and how that role is being challenged. He argued that one of the most critical challenges is the dramatic change in the availability of paid work. Whereas a decade ago less than 5% of partnered fathers of preschoolers were not in paid work (this group includes those who are unemployed and looking for a job and voluntary situations such as ‘househusbands’), by 1996 this figure had risen to 13%, with a further 5% working less than 30 hours a week. At the other extreme, 42% of preschooler’s fathers worked more than 50 hours, up from 39% in 1991.

He then examined the changes to family structure and noted that:

  • there has been a dramatic decline in the ‘traditional’ two parent family, (father working, mum at home with kids),
  • one group of men see less of their children due to growth of sole motherhood, or because of long hours at work,
  • another group see more of children due to growth in male unemployment, or in some cases by choice.

Asking if we should want more involvement by fathers with children, Callister began by pointing out that time use data surveys need to be examined very critically as to their conclusions and methodologies. He gave the example of Arlie Hochschild’s 1989 book ‘The Second Shift’, which claimed that American fathers averaged only 12 minutes a day with their children. Close examination revealed that her data was from 1965, and that it ignored weekends. In the mid 1990’s fathers actually spent one hour with their children for every one and one half hour their wives did. Callister then outlined the benefits to children, fathers and woman that would accrue from biological fathers parenting their children. He concluded "More research on fathers is needed. In undertaking such work it is important that men, and specifically fathers, are a key part of the research team. This was not the case with the ‘Fathers Who Care’ research project run by the Office of the Commissioner for Children".

In addressing the barriers to fathering that New Zealand men face, Callister discussed the way social norms influence behaviour. Male heroes in this country tend to be men whose activities require them to spend long periods away from their families. Also, "…studies carried out in New Zealand, Australia and America on fathers who become primary caregivers indicate that these men faced strong reactions from their social groups, including their own parents……the majority, at least initially were negative". Looking at structural issues he noted that "there is evidence to suggest that both formal and informal networks of childcare and support have tended not to be welcoming to fathers…….An example is that, although Playcentre was always seen as a ‘family’ organisation, sessions have been traditionally held at a time when most men were at paid work…….Studies also indicate that the ‘helping’ professions, such as doctors, often have not been supportive of fathers becoming the primary caregiver……it also appears that the legal system can be a major barrier to father involvement in cases of family separation."

Another factor which inhibits some men is the fear of false accusations of abuse, which came out clearly in Callister’s research on Playcentre fathers. "There was a phase when it seemed that it was accepted by many that women and children never lied, but it was assumed that men generally did. It also seemed that we started a dangerous shift from the cornerstone of our legal system of being innocent until being proven guilty, to men being guilty until proven innocent. Some men felt awkward hugging children or bathing them and, in settings such as Playcentre, wouldn’t take children to the toilet". In terms of preventing abuse, Callister pointed to research that suggests that men involved in the physical care of their children under 3 are far less likely to abuse any children subsequently.

Lastly he said that "attitudes within workplaces, and the structure of paid work, has a marked impact on the ability of fathers to spend time with their children……..but change is possible. For example, in New Zealand the EEO Trust is working closely with some employers developing ‘father-friendly’ workpractices".

Callister then concluded his address by saying "Finally my research suggests, overall, that few New Zealand fathers are either pigs, heroes or wimps. Currently a high proportion of fathers are simply trying to do their best within their own set of beliefs and within their often very limited set of potential choices. In order for men to have equal obligations and opportunities to participate in unpaid nurturing work, and, just as necessary, for women to have equal obligations and opportunities in paid work, much change still needs to occur throughout society".

J.P.

Fathering The Future‘ A Success

Workshops summarize concerns over obstacles to positive fathering.

Christchurch hosted the first New Zealand forum on fatherhood on the last weekend of March called ‘Fathering the Future’. The idea for a forum was copied from a similar event in Sydney in September last year, which carried the same name. From there the spark flew over to Christchurch where city councillor Garry Moore and the City Council’s child advocate Lyn Campbell especially, pushed for having such an event in New Zealand as well. With the help of the charismatic late children’s commissioner Laurie O’Reilly it was brought on the way.

While there were three keynote speakers plus Governor-General Sir Michael Hardie- Boys, who opened the forum, all the ‘real’ work was done in the workshops, which had to deal with 400+ people who turned up to the forum. Every workshop ran twice, in the morning and afternoon, and themes were: fathers in childcare and schools, fathers and children’s health, fathers in the parenting role, the image of fathers in the media, father- friendly workplaces, fathering and sport, fathers in fathering groups and fathering – a woman’s perspective.

The workshop facilitators were given directions to run their groups focussed on identifying obstacles to involved fathering and possibly to develop solutions. As this was the first opportunity for dads to voice their concerns this was perhaps asking a bit too much. But there was a new spirit that developed in the workshops, and that was the spirit of co-operation between men and women for the good of their children.

There was little disagreement between fathers and the many female community workers who attended. The awareness that men need to be included more in parenting and that present services and institutions are not necessarily geared for this challenge was already very high.

Most of the workshops reported back to the forum on very similar lines. The workshop ‘fathers in the workplace’ found significant obstacles put in the way of men who need time off for their families or who try to negotiate shorter working hours. It was generally felt that in the minds of employers men’s first commitment should be with their company. A US study had found just last year that men are, indeed, punished much harder for taking time off for the family than women. Over the course of their career they can expect a 25% lower income if they take parental leave than if they are not. The corresponding figure for women is 15%.

In many workshops, including the one on fathers in the parenting role, disappointment with the Family Court system surfaced as anger. Men who separated from their partners felt that the Court didn’t give their involvement with their children much priority and that it was too easy for the mothers to obstruct the litte access fathers have. A separate forum the day before dealt specifically with these legal issues.

The workshop on the women’s perspective was run by Jan Ewins, who was instrumental in kickstarting the ‘Fathering the Future’ forum in Sydney. She reported on ‘gatekeeping’ by women, meaning that men can only be as much or as little involved as the mothers will allow them, as women normally hold the power in parenting. She also said that as women felt that men hold most of the power and wealth in the sphere outside the home, they are very anxious not to lose their dominant role inside of it.

Many fathers pointed to negative images of men in the media and ‘political correctness’ which they felt allows women to say bad things about men but not the other way round, as an obstacle to involved fathering. Children’s books and television programmes were also mentioned, especially by fathers in primary caregiving roles. They felt that the contribution of men in parenting is simply not reflected in these children’s media, which focus almost exclusively on the mother-child bond. This can influence children’s attitudes towards their fathers – and vice versa.

The ‘fathers in childcare and schools’ workshop – as well as some others – listed the fear of false accusations of sexual abuse as a major obstacle to more male involvement. Numbers of male primary school teachers have dropped sharply after the Christchurch Civic Creche child abuse case in 1992, and men have almost disappeared from pre- schools. One worker with the Early Childhood Development Unit reported that they often received calls by people trying to choose a suitable pre-school for their children, asking whether there are men in a particular pre-school. This was considered a bad thing.

Many of the fathers who attended must have felt great relief that they were finally given the opportunity to present their side of the story. Single fathers, especially, received some much-needed acknowledgement when John Brickell, a contract worker for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, reported on some of his research. John has been a single dad for 8 years. Problems of single dads also surfaced in some of the workshops.

At the same time the forum was very careful not to offend single mothers. Every keynote speaker acknowledged the hard work these women do and appealed to the audience not to blame them for problems which are not their fault. But at least one small Christchurch group called ‘Women as Family Court Consumers’ was not satisfied with this and went home with the impression that this forum was mainly about ‘mother – bashing’. A spokeswomen for the group even told National Radio- wrongly – that "allowing fathers better access to their children puts children in more danger of abuse".

Harald Breiding-Buss.

(Father & Child Trust. Ch.Ch.)

More on Father & Child Trust here.

Christchurch Men’s Health Day

At the end of April almost 400 men attended a health education day organised by Doug Stapleton of the Canterbury Lions Club. They did allow a few women in at the end to provide the catering, just like the Men’s Centre North Shore’s 1996 Men’s Health Day! It is great to see how effectively a well-resourced group like Lions can organise an event like this, and we commend them for taking the initiative. The Christchurch day received several minutes television coverage – hopefully it will inspire Lions members in other areas of New Zealand to follow Doug’s example.

J.P.

Nelson Dad’s Group

Sounds like this group started almost accidentally when Philip Chapman was foolish enough to suggest to a parenting group that the Father’s Day promotion they were proposing should perhaps be organised by a father. As he was the only one there guess who got the job? Fortunately he received the assistance of one of the local radio D.J.s and now there are about 30 dads running meetings every few weeks. They plan to get funding to run education programs for dads and to work towards making workplaces more father – friendly.

J.P.

Public Meeting

May 6th 1998

Shore Fathers invites anyone with an interest, or concerns regarding their rights in the areas of:

  • Custody
  • Access and Guardianship

…in the event of a family break-up

Speakers from:

  • the Police
  • the Family Court
  • a Family Court Lawyer

7.30 PM to 9.00 PM, Birkenhead Baptist Church, 25 Birkdale Road, Birkenhead

Info: Craig Davis Ph 483 2477 Shore Fathers – supporting fathers in our community

More on Shore Fathers here.

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