Over the past decade academic and political attention concerning the role and involvement of fathers has steadily increased (Featherstone 2009, Haas & O'Brien 2010). In terms of social policy, individuals and institutions alike are expected to 'Think Fathers' (DFE 2010). Given proposals to reform legal aid in private family law (Ministry of Justice 2010) and the Coalition commitments to facilitate shared parenting and relationship support (HM Government 2010) enriching the evidence base for such interventions is crucial. This is particularly the case with data on fathers' perspectives.
My research contributes to current debates on shared parenting and child welfare (Hunt, Masson & Trinder 2009, Lamb & Kelly 2009), emphasising the significance of the gendered and moral aspects of parenting identity and practice. It can be applied to a range of settings in which interventions for separating families are offered, by highlighting ways in which some fathers have coped with maintaining parenting relationships.
My study explored experiences of divorced or separated fathers who felt they had maintained relationships with their children. The overall aim was to understand how fathers adjust to being a dad after divorce or separation, focusing on men's own views on their lives as fathers. It also offered important insights into what makes this easier or harder, about what kind of 'work' is involved in fathering beyond divorce, and about the ongoing influence of gender in shaping this process. The research showed that fathers see fathering after separation as occurring in connection with others, and as particularly interconnected with mothers. Trying to stay close to and spend time with children demanded more time and attention to how this happens and the 'relationship work' involved. This included changes such as thinking about the needs and feelings of children (biological or step) and mothers, trying to decide the 'right' thing to do, and trying to be fair to different people. The research highlights these ideas of 'relationship work' and dealing with moral questions or dilemmas. It shows how both were an important part of being a father after divorce or separation and that working towards a 'bearable' solution was a difficult and ongoing process.
In line with the UEA CRCF's commitment to communicate new evidence to practitioners, policy makers and the public, across the statutory and voluntary sectors, this proposal will present my research findings to a range of audiences and use the analysis of fathers' narratives to inform practice guidance. One strand of the proposal is to disseminate the research through academic journals, presenting not only the substantive findings, but also methodological insights and broader theoretical arguments produced by the research. Another key strength of my work lies in its relevance for applied settings, including social work, family law, and providers of mediation, support or contact facilitation services for separating families. I will therefore engage with regional and national organisations (Norfolk Family Mediation Service, National Association of Child Contact Centres, CAFCASS, One Plus One, Relate) in order to discuss research findings and inform the practice guidance. As part of this broader dissemination, I will also build on contacts established with a key young fathers' group in Norfolk. This engagement will provide another important context for evaluating the impact of my research and will inform the development of practice guidance. The culmination of these dissemination activities will be the launch of practice guidance at an event for relevant individuals and organisations to be held at a UEA CRCF seminar at UEA London. The fellowship will thus enable me to contribute to academic debates, enrich practitioner knowledge and so inform family support interventions, and to continue to engage with separated fathers as key beneficiaries of the research.