UN Convention on Rights of the Child 2000


The New Zealand Father and Child Society was established in March 1998 and formally incorporated in November 1998. It was created to give local father groups/organisations support in setting up and running their initiatives, as well as giving better access to information and improve communication between these groups. It was also formed to represent fathers on a national level through government's ongoing consultation process with the community.

At the local level, the various organisations that form part of the society have programs that support fathers and children. For example, the Christchurch Father&Child Trust has been running Fatherhood/Relationship modules on a regular basis for the ante-natal programmes at Avonlea birthing centre and the Homebirth Society for more than a year. During this time the module has been refined and we have produced a resource "Dads in Ante-Natal Classes" drawing on these experiences and the research on the issue.

Also in Christchurch as support program for teenage fathers has been set up. While there are now many support services for teenage mothers, there are none for teenage fathers, or that are working with a whole-family concept.

As a further example of our work, the Wellington Father&Child Trust last year organized a social policy forum examining the changing roles of fathers in New Zealand society. It is now organising a conference to be held in October this year. The purpose of this one day conference is to bring together research, practice and policy on how New Zealand can best meet its commitments under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child: Article 18. This is that parents have joint primary responsibility for raising the child, and the State shall support them in this. However, the best interests of the child will be their basic concern.

General Comments on the Working Draft

While there are many aspects of the report that we support, we do not believe that it adequately addresses the issue of how the government can best support parents having joint responsibility for the raising the child. In this report fathers are virtually invisible, yet there are many instances of where programs are outlined that support mothers in raising their children. As one example, section 203 discusses the Family Start program. In this paragraph there is the statement that this program can help children to enjoy a good start in life including "to insure those new mothers most in need receive assistance". Yet, in our work we deal with fathers who, for various reasons, are the primary caregivers of children in their early years of life. The language describing the programs, and the actual programs, need to focus on parents, not just mothers.

As another example, there is concern expressed about protecting the mother and child relationship when mothers are in prison. We are supportive of this concept. But there is little concern about on-going support of the father and child relationship. It is simply assumed in the text that there is no problem if the children are with the mother.

We are concerned that there is no information about how the state supports the sharing of parenting in intact families. There is much international research that shows that positive involved fathering is beneficial to children (for example see recent editions of The Journal of Marriage and the Family). However, this and New Zealand research show that there are some barriers to many fathers fully sharing the parenting role (e.g. Birks and Callister 1999a&b). Some of these are outside the direct control of the state (such as parenting rooms often being attached to the women’s toilets and parent support groups not adequately supporting fathers) but many are. For example, a lack of paid paternity leave prevents many fathers taking time off around the birth of their child. In addition, when publicly funded research has been carried out on shared parenting, fathers have not been seen as an equal partner in the research process (Callister 1999).

In much of the report there is a link made between parental separation and domestic violence. While this link does exist in some separations it is far from universal. An example of how this link is developed in the report is points 276 and 277. Point 276 states "there is on-going interest in the role of non-custodial parents in their children’s lives". This is followed immediately by point 277 that states "balancing the safety of children against their right to have contact with both parents continues to be an issue". It is fine to have point 277, but it would be useful to have a section straight after point 276 outlining how the government puts into action this "interest’ in the role of non-custodial parents. What initiatives has the government put in place to support these parents have a positive an on-going relationship with their children? In the report there is much information about government-funded research on sole parent families, but what funding has been made available and what research programs are underway on non-custodial parents? Even use of the term "sole parent family" in this and most other government reports denies the relationship between the child and the other parent.

In the report there is no clear statement as to what is meant by "best interest of the child". For example, in the context of the Family Court it can therefore be used as a blanket justification for any decision without any further elaboration. This means that decisions relating to children are not transparent. It is important that this matter receive more attention and the interests of children be more clearly identified.

Finally, Appendix B of the Ministry of Youth Affairs Briefing to the Incoming Minister, November 1999, identifies the impact of parental separation as a key issue for young people. It is therefore of concern that the draft report does not give more attention to assisting two-parent families to resolve relationship problems and supporting ongoing parent-child relationships after separation.

Specific comments in relation to the well-being of children with separated parents

Paragraph 210 on parental guidance is misleading. Paragraph 104 in the original report refers to the Guardianship Act - however Judge Inglis has acknowledged that non-custodial parents only have "the shell of guardianship". Paragraph 106 of that report refers to awareness of the child's developmental stage, but the Family Court selects and supports a "primary caregiver" often to the exclusion of the other parent without regard for the child's changing needs.

While paragraph 212 advocates, "better support programmes", there are no parenting programmes for separated parents.

Paragraph 216 refers to changes in the Guardianship Act to address custody and access when there are allegations of violence, but many of these are merely allegations. Anecdotal information suggests that the changes may be misused to gain advantage in separation and custody disputes. In Christchurch 48 percent of applications for domestic violence orders in the year ending June 1999 were either struck out, withdrawn or discharged (Department for Courts, Domestic Violence Programmes Southern Regional Plan, December 1999, p.15). There are no penalties for false allegations, and much damage can be done through interim disruption of a child's relationship with a parent. Regulations for supervised access are sometimes draconian. For example, the Salvation Army rules specify that "no books are to be brought into the centre; this is to prevent the possibility of continued abuse" and "gifts will be kept until the end of the session unless prior arrangement has been made with the custodial parent". While the draft report refers to a person using violence - this is not a necessary condition for the legislation to have an effect.

Paragraph 217 refers to a Ministry of Justice report, The Domestic Violence Legislation and Child Access in New Zealand. While it presents the report's conclusions favourably, the report also states that, "Custodial parents and professionals frequently believed the legislation was in place to prevent direct physical abuse of children, and that because such abuse was rare, the law was unnecessarily harsh."

Paragraph 218 refers to there being children still exposed to violence during access. There is no mention of the other side to this, whereby the Domestic Violence Act inappropriately restricts contact between a child and a parent. Children whose access to a parent is restricted can also be harmed, especially in terms of its reinforcement of parental alienation. Dunne and Hedrick refer to, "…alienating parent being given professional support for his/her position…This has the capacity to more firmly entrench the syndrome and to enhance the severity of the dynamics."

Paragraph 233 discusses the recovery of maintenance for children, but does not mention the significant problems that can be faced by non-custodial parents who have a high level of contact with their children. Under most circumstances current child support legislation takes no account of this time, nor does it consider the custodial parent's income.

Paragraphs 248 to 251 discuss abuse and neglect. However non-custodial parents who see their children in situations of risk have great difficult getting these matters addressed. Complaints can lead to their own contact with and limited ability to protect their children being further reduced.


Callister, P. (1999) The Fathers Who Care: Partners in Parenting Project: Does it matter that there was not a partnership in the research process?

Birks, S. and Callister. P. (Eds.) (1999) Perspectives on Fathering, Palmerston North: Centre for Public Policy Evaluation

Birks, S. and Callister. P. (Eds.) (1999) Perspectives on Fathering II, Palmerston North: Centre for Public Policy Evaluation

Dunne J and Hedrick M (1994) The Parental Alienation Syndrome: An Analysis of Sixteen Selected Cases, Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, Vol.21(3/4), pp.21-38.

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