Fathers `should have fuller role in child care'

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Fathers must be allowed to play a full part in looking after their children without facing discrimination by employers or the state, a leading psychiatrist said yesterday.

Dr Kraemer, a consultant psychiatrist at the Tavistock Clinic in London, told the national Conference on Families and Parenting at the Royal College of Physicians that denying fathers a useful family role would be harmful both to the parent and the children.

"The non-domestic world may still seem to be dominated by male values, but the fact is men are increasingly marginalised," he warned. "Without the opportunity to be useful parents, men will slide further into meaninglessness".

He added: "It is important for children to be looked after by women and men. Little children see women being effective both as parents and workers. Unless fathers are included in looking after children, how are children going to see what men are really like, and how can men find out what children are really like?"

His plea came as the Department of Health announced a pounds 2.5m research initiative aimed at finding means to support parents who are under pressure. Research topics will cover specific parenting problems and the co-ordination of services.

Dr Kraemer said research from two studies since 1986 showed that men rarely abused their own children if they were involved in caring for them from the very start.

In the past, "fathers had no role but earning money" but now the breadwinner was no longer irrevocably the man and women had gained many of the new jobs, although they still tended to be part-time. "Women's work is no longer confined to the home. Furthermore the nature of paid work has changed for both men and women, with women gaining and men losing," he said.

Calling for a "revolution in child care", Dr Kraemer said that both women and men should receive greater support, including intermittent paid leave over several years of the child's early life.

"Fathers are just as capable of devoted parental care as mothers and there is no need to discriminate against their taking an equal share in the task if they are available to do it."

Employers and the State should both play their part. He called for a parliamentary select committee on children and parents to be set up to put pressure on ministers to accept their responsibilities.

"Successful parenthood depends on the task being shared with others. Whatever arrangements are made for non-parental child care, the people doing it have got to be properly supported and properly paid. It is not sufficient to leave these costs to the parents."

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