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Are fathers the answer to childcare shortages?

20th Nov 2002
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An alliance of organisations, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Fawcett Society and Fathers Direct, representing women's equality and supporters of active fatherhood has urged the Government to tackle Britain's childcare crisis by offering fathers greater work flexibility.

The three organisations have published a report, "Men and women: who looks after the children?", outlining how improved opportunities for women at work require greater opportunities for fathers to take up caring responsibilities at home. In a joint statement, the three organisations conclude: "There is a crisis in childcare in terms of availability and affordability. The result is that many women are unable to return to work, so that families lose out on income and women's career prospects are damaged. Yet the debate has largely failed to consider how, with greater flexibility at work, fathers could do more childcare, enlarging their own lives and offering women greater opportunities in the work place.

"The Government's Childcare Strategy states that it will encourage childcare taking place within families, but fails to offer ways to achieve this. Greater work flexibility for fathers would be a key contribution. Sharing childcare and work between men and women is, after all, already the choice many families prefer. We know, for example, that in dual earner families, the individual most likely to be caring for children while mum is at work is not a neighbour, relative or childminder, but dad. However, this option is closed to many families where employers still expect fathers to work as though they are childless or as though there is a woman at home available to look after the children."

Among other long-term recommendations in the report is a call on the Government to create leave entitlements after the birth of a baby that would allow a father to take extended time out to care for the baby without risking his job security. One option put forward would be for dads to be able to take extended time off after the baby is three months old if that is what the parents decided was best for their family.

The report also calls on the Government to commission an audit of public services covering areas such as education, health and social welfare. The aim would be to determine whether these services reinforce patterns of childcare that place the onus of caring on women and thereby limit opportunities at home and at work for women and men.

Key recommendations

A campaign to promote work flexibility for men as well as women in the workplace. Challenge workplace culture that equates involvement in family life with failure at work. Generate messages about the opportunities for fathers to spend more time with their children and the benefits to their children in terms of educational and behavioural outcomes.

A campaign to close the pay gap and reduce economic constraints on families when deciding how to organise work and childcare.

Promote to children in schools the possibilities for future sharing of work and childcare between men and women.

Give a voice to children in the debate about how families should organise work and childcare.

Create family services, maternity services and services tackling social exclusion that recognise and support the role of fathers and other male carers in caring for children. Audit current services to determine if/how they reinforce patterns of childcare that limit opportunities for women and men.

Support the involvement of non-resident parents in caring for their children, particularly within families living in disadvantage.

Create new programmes to support the relationships of parents within the criminal justice system and their children, as part of resettlement work and strategies to reduce re-offending.

Campaign to promote new leave entitlements for fathers as a new opportunity for participation in the lives of their children. Monitor uptake and respond accordingly.

Create leave entitlements after the birth of a baby that provide the possibility for a father to take over care of the baby after the first three months of the baby's life without risking his job security, if that is what the parents decide is best for their family.

Link measures to promote work flexibility, particularly as they relate to men, into childcare strategies, in order to increase opportunities for childcare to be managed within the family.

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