Dad and Partner Pay: Implications for policy-makers and practitioners

CFCA Paper No. 12 – February 2013

Introduction

The introduction of Dad and Partner Pay on 1 January 2013 is a significant addition to Australia's existing government-funded Paid Parental Leave scheme and complements parental leave provisions under the National Employment Standards (NES). Its introduction more appropriately reflects the current social context for fatherhood and validates new gender norms for the care of children in Australia.

The development of family policies relating to parental leave is relatively new, having only been available to families over the past 33 years, beginning with unpaid maternity leave in 1979, followed by the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984 and the Affirmative Action Act in 1986 (Wolcott, 1999).

The objectives of the government's Paid Parental Leave scheme, of which Dad and Partner Pay is the newest addition, are to enhance child and maternal health and development, facilitate women's workforce participation and promote gender equity and work-family balance (Dickenson, 2012).

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) (2007) found that "current inequalities in the spread of the costs and benefits of paid work and the essential work of care are not sustainable" and that "better incentives are required to increase men's use of family-friendly policies" (p. 93). As a society there is a need to evolve the current work-care practices within families. Importantly, research has found that high levels of father involvement are associated with significant and highly desirable outcomes for children and families (Wilson & Prior, 2011; see also Fletcher, 2011). According to O'Leary (2012) fathers who are involved with their children have children who are happier, healthier and do better at school, fathers feel loved and loving, and perform better in the workplace and community, couple relationships flourish, and society benefits because the children of involved fathers tend to avoid criminal behaviour and instead channel their energies in prosocial ways.

This paper provides a review of current family models of work and care, and considers the contemporary image of fatherhood and the increasing importance of policies that provide choices for families to manage the care of their children, unpaid work and paid work. Finally, the paper examines the role of government in facilitating greater choice for parents, enabling increased time with children and greater work-family balance.1

Box 1: What does this mean for family and relationship service providers?

The Dad and Partner Pay policy is designed to encourage more dads to spend more time with their child immediately after birth. The implications of this policy may extend to more active and ongoing involvement in childcare and family domestic tasks, which would lead to greater gender equity in both paid and unpaid work and a greater work-family balance for mothers, fathers and partners, and better outcomes for children and families.

An awareness of fathers' and partners' rights is helpful for family and relationship service providers for both their employees and their clients, as is an awareness of the latest family policies and research into father involvement. Fathers have noted that a barrier to increased engagement with children is seen in the infrastructure focus on services such as "maternal" and child health and "mothers" groups. A change in social norms and behaviours will only take place if institutional barriers are restructured to be inclusive of fathers. A new range of challenges may also appear in relationship counselling, such as role conflict, gender roles, what it means to be a man or father, and maternal gate-keeping. (See Further Reading for more information.)

 

Footnote

1 This paper informs the current context for fathers in a couple relationship (with the mother of their child) and focuses on the period immediately after birth or adoption. The parenting context for single-sex parents and for lone-, step- and non-resident fathers, while recognised as important, falls outside the scope of this paper.