United Future's family policy has all the vacuous moralising and disingenuous use of research that right wing Christian lobby groups specialise in. The policy has three major planks:
1# The Family Court will be empowered to force DNA testing to prove the parentage of kids, so that fathers can be sure the children they're paying child support for are their own.
2# The child support system will be reviewed.
3# My favourite: UF will make shared parenting the 'default position' for child custody arrangements made through the Family Court. Why? UF cites the following statistics, drawn from the work of Massey University economist Stuart Birks. Apparently, children raised in fatherless homes are:
• 5 times more likely to commit suicide.
• 32 times more likely to run away.
• 20 times more likely to have behavioural disorders.
• 14 times more likely to commit rape
• 9 times more likely to drop out of high school.
• 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances.
• 9 times more likely to end up in a state-operated institution.
• 20 times more likely to end up in prison.
Now I don't know Stuart Birks or his work from a bar of soap, and I don't know why an economist would do social research of this sort, but if United Future have represented his work correctly then this research is seriously awful. Even if Birks' figures are corrent (and I have my doubts), he doesn't seem to have much grasp of that basic research tenet: correlation does not indicate causation. If 'fatherless' kids are at greater risk of all these outcomes, it may have less to do with paternal absence and a great deal more to do with the poverty and stress which so often affect sole mums and their families. To say nothing of the effects of having your family denigrated by conservative Christians.
What exactly is UF's attitude to the role of dads? To some extent, it seems proprietorial: "Those kids are half mine, dammit, and I'm going to have my share through the Family Court". This irrespective of who was the primary caregiver to the children before their parents split, who has the closer emotional relationship with them, who is better able to provide care. And let's not forget that the Family Court deals only with that 5% of families whose disputes are so acrimonious that they can't sort custody out privately.
On the other hand, UF seem eager to absolve fathers of responsibilty for kids not biologically their own. This seems odd to me. Leaving the issue of financial support aside, if a man has a loving parental relationship with a child not biologically his own (perhaps through a blended family relationship which has gone awry), would it not make sense to foster that relationship rather than promoting the idea that 'if it's not your genes, it's not your responsbility'?
Whatever UF thinks about the role of dads, their low opinion of sole mothers is pretty clear. It's these women and their apparently deficient parenting which are producing the drug addicts, rapists and school drop-outs of the world. Somehow, a child's relationship with their biological father - no matter the quality of that relationship, or whether the child actually wants it - is supposed to remedy all this.
In my humble opinion, the problem underlying UF's thinking on families is that it regards raising kids as a purely private responsibility between two parents - a responsibility characterised by ownership and control. If you think about parenting in this way, you get hung up on who pays bills and gets property rights - as if kids were like some other jointly owned bit of property, a house or a car. You forget about the role of the village in raising the child, and the right of the village to be assured that children are being cared for well, not torn apart by parents motivated by property rights.