21 July 2009

Non-resident fathers study suggests more support needed

A group of separated fathers who experienced enormous grief and frustration when they were no longer able to live with their children have told researchers that community services do not provide the help they needed.

The study Pathways through Parental Separation, funded by the Families Commission Innovative Practice Fund, analysed discussions with 20 non-resident fathers to find strategies for supporting fathers through the process of separation.

Nelson-based fathering researchers David Mitchell and Philip Chapman, say the focus groups revealed that the men were unprepared for the separation process and their inability to find the right support when they most needed it. This created a potentially volatile situation at a time when they were least likely to develop or plan effective coping strategies.

The men also identified a need for strategies to create and maintain a changed relationship with their children's mother and to redefine their parental role.

"These fathers, some of whom had been separated for many years, all reported feelings of grief, loss and isolation at no longer being able to live with their children. For many, the focus group discussions were their first opportunity to examine and share their experience," said David Mitchell.

"They expressed dissatisfaction with the ability of services to respect and respond to their needs. On the other hand, it was reported that service providers saw themselves as being present for all family members. This study suggests this is a contradiction that needs to be urgently addressed," said Philip Chapman.

Families Commissioner, Gregory Fortuin says that while the men in this study are not representative of all separated men, their experience is supported by international literature and adds to the information the Commission is building on fathering and separated parenting.

"We are drawing on our research and analysis to inform an issues paper on separated parenting. This paper will help us provide further input to the Inland Revenue Department's review of the child support system. The Commission has also posted a poll on its feedback website www.thecouch.org.nz to find out more about people's experiences, understanding, and views on separated parenting."