I am married to Karen and we have four sons between us: James (13), Lincoln (10), Gabriel (8) and Harry (2).
Lincoln and Gabriel have significant disabilities and both have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There were significant discrepancies with Lincoln’s and Gabriel's NDIS plans, which were clearly deficient, and no direct link between the education system and the NDIS, making it hard for us to navigate. Because of issues with behaviour, significant delays in toileting, and extensive use of incontinence supports, there were very limited opportunities for Lincoln and Gabriel to attend mainstream daycare. Access to the NDIS involved frequent administrative and bureaucratic delays, leading to a process which was not transparent, on top of the pressures of work. Unfortunately these frustrations were common amongst other participants we met.
There have also been no supports in place for Lincoln or Gabriel to attend before or after school care. There is no provision for neurodiverse kids in Outside School Hours Care. I almost lost my job at the time ensuring that I could collect the boys after school.
As a Dad, you are seen as less loyal or committed to your role if you have caring responsibilities, especially if you manage a team. I work in the construction industry and there is an expectation that the wife will “look after the kids”. People thought I was “bludging” when in reality I was looking after my children. I am thankfully now in a supportive environment at a different employer. The conversation has started to change, thankfully, but it has been difficult especially as I had to drive regionally to support my wife with childcare drop-offs.When Karen gave birth to Harry I had planned to take the two week ‘Dad and Partner Pay’ from Centrelink. The pay process is cumbersome, and, frankly, punitive in any situation where there is a misunderstanding even originating from Centrelink's side. I met all the requirements for the Pay but - because I had to go on leave early due to a potential early birth - Centrelink would not approve the leave. Instead, I had to take those two weeks unpaid, with no work, and no income. We also unfortunately experienced pregnancy loss with a stillbirth, and I was only eligible for compassionate leave for a couple of days to cope with this difficult time.
Partner Pay is important; there is a significant strain on both parents during this early time, and it’s also very exciting. As we had older children in the house when Harry was born, it was important for me to be there to help with all the kids. There are many Dads who want to be further involved with the raising and development of their children. Sadly, a lot of Dads I know don’t even bother applying for the Dad and Partner Pay.
I think there is a lack of understanding in the community for the role parents play, particularly if they are LGBTQI+, or culturally or linguistically diverse. There’s a lack of access to services if you’re not a typical, heterosexual, English-speaking family. I have seen this myself in relation to the (lack of) support for children with disabilities.
I am proud that The Parenthood is helping make these matters more robust and topical, and as a proud working Dad, I would have been very keen to use shared Paid Parental Leave within the first 2 years of birth. I enjoy being a Dad and I want to share the caring so it’s not all on Karen.
Affordable, accessible and sustainable childcare is needed to be fair to parents, workers, and providers. We need to encourage inclusive childcare reforms, which support all disabled, CALD, and various parent/family units.
In my experience, COVID has actually helped bring about the conversations of care responsibilities too. Employers and employees are seeing the benefits of accommodating further workplace flexibility, and the digital transformation for agile working has enabled this.
We just need the support, and infrastructure in place to ensure that quality and affordable access is improved.
If you would like to share your story please email Maddy at [email protected]