New UWL research reveals hidden public health crisis affecting separated fathers

A new report from the University of West London’s School of Human and Social Sciences titled Lost Dads: The Fathers and Family Breakdown, Separation, and Divorce Project (FBSD) reveals that more than 40 per cent of men (41.9%) seeking help after family breakdown had suicidal thoughts. The study is making a number of recommendations, including a rethink of co-parenting arrangements in the UK.

The Lost Dads FBSD study was launched at a free UWL event at the University’s Dr William Barry Theatre on 19 October.

The Lost Dads report is endorsed by the UK’s leading shared parenting charity, Families Need Fathers, which supports parents who are denied contact or who are struggling with legal and emotional issues following separation. Award-winning charity, Dads Unlimited, which supports the emotional safety of men and those they care about also backs the study. Four men also shared their personal experiences with the audience.

The report can be downloaded at

Conducted by Dr Ben Hine, Professor of Applied Psychology at the University of West London (UWL) and funded by the Woodward Charitable Trust, the Lost Dads FBSD Project – the most comprehensive study of its kind – reviewed data on over 1000 men seeking help from charities and surveyed 130 directly.

Key findings from the Lost Dads FBSD study reveal:

Over 40% (41.9%) of men who approach support services during family breakdown express suicidal thoughts. This may have a key link to the suicide being the leading cause of death for men under 50.
For a disproportionate number of men as fathers, the experience following family breakdown can simply be too much. These experiences are shaped by negative stereotypes about fatherhood and masculinity, which limit men’s ability to seek and receive effective support.
Negotiating co-parenting arrangements, particularly within the family court system, has a profoundly negative experience for fathers. They expressed despair in their battles for time with their children who were sometimes being ‘weaponised’ against them.
Sometimes, parental alienating behaviours were identified, like manipulation of the child’s opinion of the male parent. This has severe consequences for both fathers and their children.

UWL’s Dr Hine said, “When families break down, there’s no real support in place – particularly for men – and that’s probably the biggest issue. All the research indicates that supporting parents to build shared co-parenting arrangements has better outcomes for children than single-parent families. This project indicates that this would have benefits for parents, particularly fathers. So, there are psychological, academic, practical, and moral reasons why we should be striving towards access to both parents for children providing it is safe to do so.”

The Lost Dads FBSD report makes a number of recommendations which Dr Hine believes will alleviate a hidden public health crisis:

FBSD ‘Triage’ – Implementation of urgent and immediate intervention and care, for fathers and the family as a whole following breakdown. This could be a comprehensive online resource to support so-called Family Hubs within the community.
Rebuttal Presumption of 50/50 Shared Responsibility – By placing mothers and fathers on ‘equal footing’ distinctions about ‘resident parent’ and financial disputes would be reduced.
Reform of the Family Court System – This would remove the adversarial and acrimonious positioning of separation wherever possible.
Increased and Reshaped Societal Recognition – The belief that men ‘can handle things on their own,’ as well as negative stereotypes about fatherhood devalue the role of fathers in children’s lives. Men need to be recognised as valuable parental figures in children’s lives and as potential victims of abuse and alienation.

Dr Hine added, “We must acknowledge the value fathers have in the lives of children, regardless of whether parents stay together, separate or divorce. That’s why we need a model like they have in many Scandinavian countries, where support is given to determine the child’s best interests in matters regarding custody, housing, and access. By centering on shared parenting as the ‘default’ model, we not only put the child’s best interests first, but we also benefit parents.”

Sam Morfey, CEO for Families Need Fathers said, “We see so many dads in circumstances similar to those described here tonight. It should be socially unacceptable for a parent – whether it be the mother or the father – to withhold contact and deny a relationship for the child with the other parent, weaponising their child, just because of a relationship breakdown. Cultural change takes time, but we see far better systems abroad successfully promoting shared parenting, of which the Scandinavian model is the gold standard.”

Gemma Lawson, Head of Mental Health at Dads Unlimited said, “This is an area which has not been researched in such depth until now. There needs to be more means to support men who are experiencing family breakdown, separation, divorce and loss of contact with children”.

The Lost Dads FBSD Project is based on 3 pieces of research. Study 1 used a quantitative case study of 1000 fathers; Study 2 was a qualitative study both surveying (130) and interviewing (30) fathers in detail. Study 3 examined the experiences and perspectives of six organisations supporting fathers in this position.

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