HC Deb 17 November 2003 vol 413 cc539-40W
Mr. Jenkins

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what encouragement departments and agencies give to fathers in keeping in contact with their children after separation. [136442]

Margaret Hodge

The Government's approach to the issue of child contact is based on the principle in the Children Act 1989, that in all decisions and arrangements about child contact, the child's best interests must be paramount. Figures from recent studies and surveys indicate as follows60 per cent. of non-resident parents agreed contact with the resident parent. 77 per cent. of non-resident parents saw their children every day, or at least once a week, or at least once a month. (Office for National Statistics survey). 47 per cent. of all non-resident fathers were having at least weekly contact, 68 per cent. at least monthly contact and only 3 per cent. had no contact at all, with their children. (Bradshaw, Stimson, Skinner and Williams—"Absent Fathers?" 1999). 69 per cent. of formerly married parents reported on-going contact. Only 5 per cent. reported that there had never been any contact and 27 per cent. said contact had been interrupted or had ended. (McLean and Eekelaar—"The Parental Obligation: a study of parenthood across households" 1997).

The Government believe that children generally benefit from the continued involvement of both parents in their lives following divorce or separation, with the interests of the child always being paramount. I am currently considering our response to the Report of the Children Act Sub-committee of the Advisory Board on Family Law "Making Contact Work" to see what further practical steps we can take to facilitate and support contact between children and their parents.

Meanwhile, the Government have already taken the following initiatives: have published the Parenting Plan, designed to help parents make practical arrangements for their children following divorce or separation, and age-related information leaflets for children concerned; are supporting a publicity campaign to emphasise the benefits of safe contact for children and to encourage parents to resolve disputes constructively; have made available public funding for family mediation for the resolution of disputes over children. 250 services now have contracts to provide family mediation and in 2001/02 are expanding the provision of child contact facilities.