Stick to the day job

It is a truth universally acknowledged that at least 90% of people who work with children have not a clue about parental responsibility. Well, perhaps not universally acknowledged, and perhaps not 90%. And perhaps some of them have a little bit of a clue, but a little bit of a clue is a dangerous thing. A lot of the people you might expect to have a basic working knowledge of PR in fact operate on the basis of an entirely fictional version of parental responsibility. Teachers are the prime example. They’re good at being teachers, rubbish at understanding PR. This is not the fault of teachers – their employers, the local authorities – someone – ought to train them. It does matter because they have care and control of children who are under care orders, who are subject to orders restricting their contact or where there is parental conflict or uncertainty or disagreement about contact or residence arrangements. And they need to know whether or not they can, should, must release information or let the child go with a particular adult. And sadly they get it wrong alarmingly frequently – most often refusing to provide information a parent with PR is entitled to.


And the same is true of hospitals, particularly children’s wards. Of which I have had some recent experience. This week, on arrival at the ward with sprog 2.0, and in the course of answering the same series of obligatory questions for the umpteenth time, I gave my husband’s name and, reading ahead to the next question, volunteered that yes, he did have parental responsibility. “Oh no” said the lovely lovely nurse, “He doesn’t have PR if you’re married. Since 2000 he only has PR if he’s on the birth certificate”.

I couldn’t help it. I had to correct him. (Married dads always have PR. Since 2003 (not 2000) unmarried dads can also acquire PR by being on the birth certificate).

It wouldn’t have jarred so much, but the nurse had just given me the admission spiel about the ward rules, which included security – “Don’t let any other adult in to the ward, we have some sensitive cases here and some parents have restricted access (for which read care / child protection / suspected NAI cases, whose babies or children might be removed on discharge), and some of the parents whose children are here long term get quite frustrated”. So knowing who has PR really does matter. And professionals like our lovely young nurse, with the bedside manner that won over my reluctant three year old, really deserve proper training on this issue.

It’s probably not top of the list of priorities for teachers or health workers. But it does matter. And it is really a pretty simple topic to grasp.

10 thoughts on “Stick to the day job

  1. Robert Whiston

    Yes it does matter, and I’m glad you’ve incorporated it. Teacher ignorance affects not just unmarried Dads but as you found to your cost divorced Dads too.
    Should the blame be on their employers ? Not entirely since teacher training colleges should have included it in the basic course work. One supposes that employers presume that graduate teachers have been fully trained. It should be shared with their union as I would bet one months salary that they sure as hell tell teachers all about women’s rights and mother’s rights.

  2. I agree totally with your comments. There are Department of Education guidelines for school regarding parental responsibility issued to headteachers of all schools. The document reference is DfEE 0092/2000 although I think this may have been updated recently. When I approached one of my child’s schools the headmaster told me he had never seen it and could I send him a copy! As you are a Barrister who knows 100% what parental responsibility is, perhaps it should be you and your profession that should be approaching schools and school governors and advising them! Unfortunately my experience of family law barristers is a very negative one. They are the least child focused people I have ever met but then again they are representing the least child focused resisdent parent I have ever met!

    • I expect we are all telling the schools our children attend whenever opportunity arises. I certainly correct such misunderstandings whenever I encounter them, and most of my teacher friends freely admit they are pretty clueless.

  3. There is a pre- Children Act case, which I do not have time to find, that made clear that a non custodial parent, as they were then, is entitled to information from a school. So that would have nothing to do with PR.

    • But if it’s a pre-children act case what relevance does it have? PR just codifies the common law position doesn’t it – I’m not sure that one can say that in the absence of PR one is necessarily entitled to such information. There may be good arguments for having it in many many cases, but the purpose of the PR provisions is to clarify roles, responsibilities and rights of parents. And it supercedes the pre-CA position doesn’t it? Or am I wrong? I may well be, it’s been a long old week.

  4. At least there is some sort of teaching of it. One of the roles of Dads groups here in NZ has been keeping schools and medical types informed of the rules. We found that some places automatically believed the mums when they told them the fathers needed to be kept away or thought they needed to ask the mothers before sharing info with the fathers.

    I always suggest to newly separated Dads that they meet up with their childrens teachers and drs etc and establish an independent realtionship with them.

  5. I find it difficult to imagine a case where a father who knew what school the child was at should not be entitled to a copy of the school report.

  6. I agree with Ken on establishing a relationship with the teacher.
    But really, people in these positions of trust should know the laws that relate to their job.

  7. It’s terrible still as my partner had PR after going to court and obtaining it and a contact order and 2 weeks ago was refused information from his daughters doctor as the practice manager only confides in the primary care giver which she says was the mother. This is after her dad having to take the child to the out of hours doctors because the child had been sick and in pain for over a week and the mother hadn’t bothered. So sad that these professionals live it the olden days!!

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