In most families, fathers are the primary carers for their children for at least part of the week, yet they are largely ignored and excluded from many support groups and government services that are designed for "mother and baby".
Today, childcare experts and health and social services professionals will debate, at the first big conference on fatherhood held in Britain, ways of reaching out to fathers and helping them to participate fully in caring for children.
Changes in social attitudeshave meant that a growing number of men are taking a more active role in looking after their children. Divorced or separated men are more likely to have regular access to their children and an increasing number of men are becoming the primary carers. The latest figures show that 178,000 men stay at home to look after the children while their wives work, an increase of more than 250 per cent in the last decade.
The Home Office minister Paul Boateng said yesterdaythat improving fatherhood services was an important part of the Government's strategy.
Adrienne Burgess, the author of Fatherhood Reclaimed and an adviser for the information service Fathers Direct, said many agencies had an ingrained assumption that men were unwilling and unable to look after children.
"Many agencies put fathers as a low priority and design their services primarily for mothers," she said. "Once a child is conceived, professionals, doctors, midwives and health visitors almost never interview the father. It's as though a virgin birth is taking place. If anyone mentions the father it's as a support system, not as a parent in their own right."
Rob Dutton, from Nottingham, obtained legal custody of his two daughters when they were both less than two years old, after he discovered that the mother, from whom he had separated, had been unable to look after them and they had been taken into care. He has looked after Josephine, now nine, and Leanne, eight, ever since but said it has been a struggle. "I've experienced a lot of hostility from everyone, social services, neighbours, friends. The main question over me seemed to be, `Why would a father want to look after his two daughters, he must be abusing them'.
"Every week, social workers would visit the house after some anonymous claim that I was beating them, abusing them or neglecting them. Every time I was cleared, but it was very hard and upsetting," he said.
Mr Dutton tried to join mother and toddler groups or coffee mornings for support when the children were younger but was not welcome. "The women don't want you there. They want to breast feed, some have difficult relationships and they just don't want a man around."Reuse content