Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

23.  Memorandum submitted by Dr Jeune Guishard-Pine


  When I was asked to submit a briefing, I immediately recognised that the challenge for me would be how to safely translate the findings of my research (which was for an audience with an interest in educating black children) for an audience with their eyes on anti-social and criminal behaviour. My research was a series of four studies. Using questionnaires and rating scales I asked over 600 children from "white", "South Asian" and "African/Caribbean" backgrounds to provide information on how they experienced fathering behaviour. I also asked a group of fathers themselves how they behaved toward their children. I examined four constructs as follows: father availability (residence, time spent together); father involvement (ratings scale describing how often the father engaged in a range of caregiving activities); father-child relationship (rating of "closeness"); and fathering "style" (the range or concentration of activities that the father carried out with his children), and their influence on the child's reading and numeracy skills; their self-esteem and their cognitive skills. As well as examining findings for the whole sample, separate analyses were carried out for each "racial" group.

  I summarise below what a perusal of available literature revealed that has some relevance to the findings of my research, specifically on black fathering.

  1.  Earliest research revealed that there was a link between the lack of involvement of a father in the child's upbringing and property and personal crimes. However, the overall findings of robust research into the significance of family variables in predicting current or later delinquency are seriously limited, and more research is needed. The findings from studies to examine the relationship between father absence and offending behaviour have been equivocal. Reviews suggest that a combination of variables rather than a single factor such as the physical presence/absence of a father in the child's home is a more useful way to approach an understanding of the relationship between family life and criminal behaviour. For example, studies have shown that the socio-economic status of lone mother families as evidenced by the deterioration in the financial and social status of a family, increased maternal stress and reduced the mother's ability to be emotionally and mentally present for her children, and therefore the link between absent fathers and adverse psychological outcomes is not direct. However, it is fair to say that generally, boys are more affected by family breakdown than girls. This was supported by my research, and may partially explain the relatively higher level of anti-social and criminal behaviour amongst black boys rather than girls.

  2.  Conversely, there is research evidence to show that processes at a transactional level within many schools influence the development of anti-social behaviour—more specifically, factors such as the cocktail of difficult, or troublesome boys; or the low expectations and high turnover of teaching staff. My research showed that even though their ratings of individual children in their classes did not evidence this, teachers continued to hold beliefs that children from lone parent families were more prone to problems of conduct.

  3.  The strongest relationship between family variables and criminal behaviour is the parents' modelling of criminal behaviour. National statistics reveals that both men and women of African/Caribbean descent are overrepresented in British prisons and it may be that this finding is relevant for delinquent black youth. In one of my studies, children with non-resident fathers rated them as being more involved in their care than their comparators with resident fathers. It may be that children with absent fathers idealise their father, and this has been shown in a number of studies. However, there may be alternative explanations for this phenomenon. It may have occurred because fathers who were physically present were less involved in active caregiving, preferring to leave this role to the mother. Or it may be that a devoted non-resident father has to engage in a wider range of parenting tasks in the limited time that he has available to his children, and the mother is not available to share those tasks with when the children are in his care.

  4.  Exposure to spousal conflict, hostility and frequent confrontations and arguments in their early childhood was also found to be part of the profile of delinquent youth. There was a strong association between rejection by both parents (rather than one) and delinquency. My research showed that the black children with the best outcomes had two parents who were most active in supporting their children's development regardless of the residence or marital status of the father.

  5.  Early research indicated that delinquent behaviour was also more prevalent in children whose parents were less explicit in showing them affection, and that this outcome was more pronounced for delinquents whose father restricted his availability to, and withheld affection from the child. My research suggests that black boys felt that their fathers were less committed to supporting their emotional development than girls.

  I have appended an article, annotated from my thesis, to this briefing paper for background information, (not printed).

Dr Jeune Guishard-Pine

Consultant Psychologist and Clinical Head for the Luton Child and Adolescent Service to Children Requiring Intensive Psychological Therapies (SCRIPT)

September 2006

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