Reid, James (2010) Children, Non resident Fathers and the Public Law: Dilemmas and Challenges. In: International Conference on Children In Law, September 16-17th 2010, Örebro University, Sweden. (Unpublished)

In the UK the public discourse on separated families has been rich with the stereotypes of ʹdeadbeat dadsʹ
and ʹobstructive mumsʹ. It is the author’s view that these stereotypes have also been common in public
service social work and concomitant legal practice with families, in part encouraged by uncritical
approaches to assessment perpetuated by mandated tools such as the Framework for Assessment of Children
in Need and their Families (DH, 2000), the Common Assessment Framework (2005) and the Integrated Children’s
System (2005). There are continuing concerns about the quality of assessments and that good practice in
this regard is inhibited by managerialist and bureaucratic approaches and imbalance between social work
practitioners and their legal representatives.
One negative outcome of this, particularly for children in contested contact proceedings, is denied
familial and cultural experiences and lost identity. The myth of the ‘deadbeat’ and ‘obstructive’ parent
means that many non‐resident parents are anonymous in practitioner’s minds and records, not helped as
many children’s stories are reduced to a ‘cut and paste’ approach to assessment. Such anonymity means
that possibilities offered by the non‐resident parent’s family, culture and community are denied and
unavailable to the child. Practitioners worry about accountability both within and out with the courtroom
and practice in an atmosphere of increased public hostility and scrutiny. Utility is determined not just by
statute but by working practices and culture, by knowledge and skills, and the prevailing social and
political priorities of the day and this does not necessarily favour positive outcomes for children and
nonresident fathers.

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