My life has been consumed recently by writing, with the help of lawyers, a very important story – published in The Age late April – about fathers and overnight care of infants and toddlers. Here’s a brief summary of what it’s all about:
Barriers constraining divorced fathers having their young children stay with them overnight may be lifted, with key family law organizations revising policies blocking overnight care of infants and toddlers.
The rethink follows the publication of an academic paper endorsed by 110 leading international experts challenging the policies. The paper is highly critical of a key 2010 study that found any regular overnight care by fathers was damaging to infants and toddlers.
The expert paper says that the 2010 study, led by Melbourne child psychologist Dr Jennifer McIntosh, was inappropriately used to suggest thatany regular overnight care by fathers was damaging to infants and toddlers. ‘‘This study provides no reliable basis to support custody policy, recommendations or decisions,” the Warshak paper found.
Professor Warshak was an ‘‘impassioned advocate’’ seeking to discredit her to further his own political agendas, Dr McIntosh said.
“Those who endorsed Warshak’s careful review paper are not ideologists for men; they simply object to the misinterpretation of data and its misuse in family law policy,” responded Foundation Director of the Australian Institute of Studies, Don Edgar, one of the signatories of the expert paper. Edgar said he was ‘‘disturbed’’ to hear Australian research findings had been used to argue against fathers’ access to, and visiting rights with, young children.
The expert paper concluded infants commonly develop attachment relationships with more than one caregiver and that in normal circumstances children are likely to do better if they have some overnight contact with both parents. It said depriving young children the opportunity to stay overnight with their fathers could compromise the development of father-child relationships.
Already there are signs the new consensus paper could affect current policies. Some key organizations, such as the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health are revising their policies regarding overnight care of infants, as are many of the Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) offering the compulsory mediation required prior to Family Court proceedings.
Sadly, the introduction to the original published story was removed after publication. This featured a father who was struggling, through mediation, to gain more contact with his one-year-old daughter. Lawyers for the ex-wife demanded his story and the photograph of the father and child be removed – despite there being no legal basis for doing so. Here’s the link to The Age website with the edited version of the story: www.theage.com.au/national/empty-days-lonely-nights-20140428-37e3e.html