Personal experiences which have influenced the
lives and opinions of those involved in social care.
“Children need fathers!” we are told, often
sanctimoniously, when the issue of single mothers is aired. Well,
what happens when the father needs support to provide parental care
for the child?
Sometimes I look after my two-year-old son
Lewis independently of my wife. But I have difficulties. I use a
wheelchair much of the time. When I do walk, I use two sticks,
which means I can’t pick Lewis up and field footballs or toy fire
Sometimes I pay someone to spend several hours
with us on Saturdays, allowing me to take Lewis to the park, set up
messy painting sessions and undertake various other educational
A further difficulty is that I am a man. If a
mother had problems looking after her baby, social services would
be round before you could say Pooh Bear. In fact they have been
known, when a disabled woman becomes pregnant, to threaten to take
over child care completely.
I have requested social services support
through the direct payments scheme, which enables disabled people
to employ their own support workers. My local social services
disabilities service and the children and families service have
played ping-pong with the request since it was made following an
assessment in November last year. Despite my telephone reminders,
very little has happened.
It is clearly a disability issue, since it is
I who need the support. Recently I have had three calls from social
workers from the children’s department. Fathers aren’t that
unusual, but the department clearly thinks I am. Last week,
however, someone called who knew about direct payments and said she
would arrange a new assessment with a view to resolving the
When I asked another disabled father whether
he’d tried to get support, he said “It’s not worth the hassle”.
Michele Watts’ book1 featured comments from fathers such
as: “I don’t believe in social workers”, and “I try not to have
much to do with social services.”
There may, in the minds of social workers, be
a conflict between their role as protectors of children under the
Children Act 1989 and their role of supporting disabled people
under the NHS and Community Care Act 1990. I suspect that that is
what is happening in the case of myself and my boy, but the advent
of direct payments should lift the responsibility from the social
workers’ shoulders. Maybe that’s difficult to take, or perhaps
there’s a little residue of prejudice that disabled people can’t
possibly do an adequate job.
We’ve muddled through. Lewis has grown one
year older and a whole lot heavier. But there’s a general question
involved. If fathers are going to take more responsibility for the
care of their children, then their role as parents should not be
ignored when they need support.
1 M Watts, Disabled
Parents: Dispelling the Myths, Radcliffe Medical Press,
Nick Lewis edits Ready Willing