Divorced or separated fathers are missing out on time with their children because a “data desert” is blinding policy makers, according to new research.

The findings of a three year study by the Fatherhood Institute have been presented to MSPs, amid concerns policies are out of touch with the changing role of fathers in the lives of Scottish children.

Rebecca Goldman, Research Associate with the Fatherhood Institute, presented her report Where’s the Daddy? to the new cross party group on shared parenting at the Scottish Parliament.

ANALYSIS: Data desert reinforces prejudice over the role of fathers as parents

She said national datasets such as the Census, Labour Force Survey and Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) often fail to take into account the role of fathers, particularly where children live between households.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, Where’s the Daddy? calls for more to be done to reflect the diversity of modern fathering. It says official statistics often fail to distinguish between birth, adoptive or ‘step’ fathers. It also recommends separated fathers should be reclassified in terms of whether they live with their children, and how much of the time, under headings such as full-time co-resident, part-time co-resident or non-resident.

Campaigners have also called for policy makers and researchers to do more to collect ‘dad data’, including asking schools, nurseries, GPs, hospitals and social services to collect information about the level of care provided by fathers and their new partners, and including specific questions in the 2021 census.

ANALYSIS: Data desert reinforces prejudice over the role of fathers as parents

They say fathers with substantial involvement in overnight care should be defined as a second household and recorded in official data, including interviews where necessary with any cohabiting partner or step-parent.

The Scottish Parliament’s first ever cross-party group on Shared Parenting met on Tuesday. Formed by Ivan McKee MSP, the group at the Scottish Parliament is seeking to identify barriers to full involvement of both parents in the lives of their children and address the assumptions that parenting is “mothers’ business”. Officially levels of shared parenting are low in Scotland – with parents sharing care in five per cent of households after relationship breakdown. In some countries such as Sweden where shared parenting is the default assumption, such arrangements are in place in 40 per cent of affected households.

Ian Maxwell, Scottish head of the charity Families Need Fathers, says a father, can be categorised, often unwittingly – as the “non-resident parent” – even if his children live with him up to half of the time.

He claims housing is a classic example of the problems this causes, with many fathers unable to gain overnight care of children if they don’t have space for them – but told by housing providers they don’t qualify for larger homes because they don’t have the care of their children. Mr Maxwell added: “A data desert tends to lead to a policy desert. This isn’t just an issue for fathers, it is important for mothers too and above all for the children. There is a mountain of research from around the world that the greater the involvement of both parents the better the life chances of the children.”

ANALYSIS: Data desert reinforces prejudice over the role of fathers as parents

Rebecca Goldman, lead author of the data review, said: “The large research datasets that we studied are drawn upon by hundreds of researchers and policy makers every year, to understand and shape social practices. Yet the insights most of the datasets afford into father-child relationships and patterns of care are often inadequate. We must put dads into the data.”

Paul Bradshaw, Head of ScotCen, which runs the Growing Up In Scotland Longitudinal study, said researchers involved in the study are involved in conversations with experts from government, universities and charities to find ways to ensure statistics are more inclusive of “dad data”. He said: “Researchers and funders interested in exploring the many complex and diverse lives of families and children increasingly appreciate the important role that dads play.

“Fully understanding that role means having the right data to do so. However, sometimes gathering the right data can be challenging.”

Sam Pringle, Fathers Network Scotland, commented: “This is not just a matter of gender equality, but a huge concern to anyone interested in the wellbeing of children.”