A father has applauded his company's policy of giving new parents – regardless of gender – six months leave when welcoming a child.

Craig Southworth, an IT manager at Aviva in Norwich, is one of the 300 new dads employed by the insurance firm to have taken the fully-paid half-year leave since the scheme launched a year ago.

The company, which has a major base on Norwich's Surrey Street, now gives parents irrespective of gender, sexual orientation or how they became a parent (birth, adoption or surrogacy) the option to have up to 12 paid months off. In total, 700 workers have made use of the scheme.

Mr Southworth said that he was able to enjoy more 'firsts' when his second son Robson was born.

He said: 'We adopted my older son four years ago, and I only had two weeks off.

'My wife wasn't able to cope as well and suffered with post-adoption depression. It's more difficult to get an adopted child better bedded-in to the family, whereas when you give birth to a child you have the pregnancy period.'

Almost every new father (95%) employed by the insurer in the UK has opted to take more than the statutory fortnight since the scheme launched, with 67% opting for the full six months.

'This time around my wife coped much better. I was able to see all the firsts, like my son sitting up, and taking him to his first swimming lesson,' Mr Southworth said.

'It helped me as a father because it's often more difficult for a baby to bond with their father, I think it would probably take even longer when that dad is working five days a week.'

The policy has also enabled female workers to extend their paid maternity leave entitlement from 18 to 26 weeks at full basic pay.

Aviva said the figures showed that fathers were keen to take time out from their careers to spend time with their families, if barriers were removed.

Around 2% of new parents have used the government's shared parental leave scheme since it was launched in April 2015.

Caroline Prendergast, interim chief people officer for Aviva, said: 'When we introduced this policy, we wanted all of our parents to know they can take leave and still have a successful career, regardless of gender. The feedback from our returning parents has been fantastic.'