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14 AUG 2009

Academics criticise Families Need Fathers' guidance

Guidance produced by Families Need Fathers (FNF) has come under criticism for giving the impression that they might have emanated from, or were approved by, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF ) or Cafcass.

The guidance is on Shared Parenting: for Cafcass Case Officers, for Teachers and Schools, for Surestart and for Litigants in Person and can be found on the FNF website.

The guidance also appeared on the Cafcass website for practitioners, however Cafcass have now removed the guidance pending revisions. Although written by Craig Pickering, the FNF Parliamentary Officer, the schools guidance begins: 'This DCSF guidance is aimed at helping schools and teachers to encourage shared parenting where it is appropriate.'

In the guidance for Cafcass, having stated, correctly, that 'shared parenting does not mean that the child's time is necessarily divided equally between the two parents' it then goes on to say 'though that is an option which should always be considered as a starting point (by Cafcass officers as well as the parents themselves) unless there is good reason to advise otherwise'.

In September's Family Law journal, Joan Hunt of the University of Oxford, Judith Masson of the University of Bristol and Liz Trinder of the University of Exeter strongly criticise the guidance and correctly outline the relevant legislation in their article Shared parenting: the Law, the Evidence and Guidance from Families Need Fathers .

The academics outline their concerns that the guidance and the inclusion of a 50/50 presumption does not reflect the current law, that the guidance is founded upon a distorted interpretation of the available research evidence, and that the guidance, which appeared to have official approval, was produced without consultation with any other stakeholders, apart from, it seems, Cafcass.

The academics continued: "it is critical that guidance of this nature is produced through an open and transparent process and one that engages a range of stakeholders. It is simply not good enough to have one pressure group writing guidance, without consultation, for agencies that may influence the lives of thousands of children."

The DCSF has clarified that the guidance is not officially endorsed.

However, although FNF have since changed the guidance to a 'draft', they have not withdrawn it from their website.

In a statement the FNF Chief Executive said: "We accept that although the core arguments are sound the guidance could be improved and are currently working with Cafcass on a revised version".

To read the Shared parenting: the Law, the Evidence and Guidance from Families Need Fathers article, see September [2009] Family Law journal.

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