As the world marks Father’s Day on Sunday, experts sounded the alarm on marginalized fathers who have been struggling to restore access to their children amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Matt O’Connor, the founder of Fathers4Justice, a prominent British fathers’ rights group, said: “We already have 3 million kids in fatherless homes, with all the catastrophic social consequences this has.”

Jeremy Davies, head of communications at the Fatherhood Institute, a British charity and fatherhood think tank, said: “Fathers have an impact on their children and their children’s mothers that lasts a lifetime.”

“This is true even if they’re dead or otherwise entirely ‘out of the picture.’ Young children whose fathers spend a lot of time with them are less likely to use drugs or get involved with the police as adolescents. They tend to do better in school, develop more positive friendships, exhibit fewer behavior problems, and experience greater self-esteem and life satisfaction,” Davies said.

“The father-child relationship is especially important in disadvantaged families, where children suffer more from a poor relationship with their father and benefit more when this is good,” he added.

Both men highlighted the crucial role fathers play in their children’s lives after a couple decides to separate.

“After separation, a high-quality father-child relationship is one of five factors most likely to result in positive child outcomes,” Davies said.

“Fathers can buffer children from other disadvantage such as mother’s depression, and a secure attachment with their father can be just as beneficial to children as a secure attachment to their mother. Father figures matter, too: stepfathers have a particularly strong impact on children’s self-esteem — for good and for ill.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted not only the health of British fathers, as men are more likely to die from coronavirus than women, but also their access to their children.

The coronavirus has “massively” affected Fathers4Justice’s work, O’Connor said.

“Enquiries are up 35% and we are working 14-hour days, seven days a week trying to deal with desperate dads fighting to see their kids because mothers have weaponized COVID-19 to deny them access,” he said.

– Calls for reform

Davies said the Fatherhood Institute is developing online training instead of the face-to-face courses they would normally run for professionals who work with families.

“We have developed a research project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and working with Britain Thinks, to explore the impact of the lockdown on UK fathers — including those who don’t live with their children full-time,” he said.

“We are developing a survey focusing on maternity services and their exclusion of fathers from appointments, scans, and early labor. And we have created a ‘Dads vs COVID-19’ page on our website, listing relevant sources of information and support.”

O’Connor called on the government to institute reforms to better protect the rights of fathers, including a legal presumption for fathers to be able to contact their children, and 50/50 shared parenting rights.

“Why shouldn’t fathers have parental equality?” he asked. “In an age where there is equality for all, why are we treating first-class fathers as second-class parents?”

Davies echoed the call to action, urging the government to reform the parenting leave system, giving fathers their own protected, well-paid “daddy leave.”

He also called on the government to ensure that expectant and new fathers receive dedicated information and support during the pre- and post-natal periods, “to help them be the best dads they can be.

“At the moment they are dealt with as an optional extra and, a lot of the time, ignored.”

As fathers are appreciated on their special day around the world, these groups will continue to fight for the rights of fathers all year round.

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