Presentation on theme: "Manufacturing Ghost Fathers Fathering and Exclusion in Child Welfare"— Presentation transcript:
1Manufacturing Ghost Fathers Fathering and Exclusion in Child Welfare
2Who we are A research team of Canadian and UK scholars: Leslie Brown, Susan StregaMarilyn Callahan,Lena Dominelli, &Christopher WalmsleyFunded by SSHRCBased at the University of VictoriaNote that we are on Coast SalishTerritory
3Where are the fathers? Previous research projects: Young moms ‘Failure to protect’Grandmothers raising grandchildren
4The research study Multiple Data Sources and Methods Policy review Literature reviewStudy of case files (N= 282)quantitative and qualitative dataSurvey of BSW syllabi (Canadian social work undergraduate courses)Qualitative interviews with fathers (11)Focus group interviews with practitioners (5)Policies:Child welfare policiesIncome supportSocial housingAboriginal policiesChild custody and supportLiterature review: note particular contributions ofScourfield, Featherstone, Oakley, Hearn Daniel and Taylor in the U.K.Risley-Curtiss, Heffernan and Pleck in the U.S.Lunds in SwedenFile Review:We undertook a review of all files of young adolescent mothers who were reported to child welfare authorities in one mid sized Canadian city over a 7 year periodTotal universe is 451 files from jurisdiction one; we randomly sampled 265 of these (59%). We added 17 files purposively selected from jurisdiction two, protection files only because there was an under representation of non Aboriginal families.Included in the quantitative data was demographics, child welfare/social work involvement with fathers. Presence/absence in family,We also collected qualitative data from a purposeful samples of file recordings written about fathers by social workers. Interested in how fathers are constructed and how policies such as child welfare and income assistance contribute to father absence.BSW syllabi:Survey of 32 Schools of Social Work that offer BSW in Canada – 47% responseFamily therapy/practice; child welfare; human growth and development, AboriginalVastly disproportionate mention of mothers compared to fathersA modest bank of literature does exist but it is not being used. (Strug and Wilmore-Schaeffer,2003)Qualitative interviews:11 fathers interviewed to date (mixed Aboriginal and non); narrative analysis being used. This is the focus of this presentation.
5How do you get to be a ‘father’? Through association with a woman who is a motherThrough behaving in a parental mannerThrough a legal or administrative actA contested concept(Eichler & McCall, 1993)
6What this presentation will address Manufacturing Ghost FathersRisks & Opportunities for Engaging Fathers
7The First Paradox of fathers in child welfare Contemporary popular and professional discourses promote the involved fatherNonetheless child welfare policies and practices (Canada, UK, US) promote the uninvolved fatherWe are interested in what we see as a cultural lag. While some recent research and popular press points to the importance of fathers in the development of children, child welfare continues to promote their absence. We want to understand better this seeming paradox
8The Second ParadoxFathers exist in the lives of women and children in child welfareFathers are rarely seen by child welfare, even when presentWe have conducted a number of previous studies focused primarily on mothers and grandmothers in child welfare. We have noted the active presence of fathers in these families. There may be a series of fathers coming and going, there may be absent fathers who nonetheless still play a role in the lives of women and children and their may be hidden fathers who are scarcely acknowledged because mothers will not do so, the Ghost” fathers. How is it that child welfare barely recognizes the role of these men? Other studies have documented a similar phenomenon.
9Ghost fathers“I am not a ghost… I did go back to school. I did have a girlfriend…We did become engaged…We had a child…. I haven’t seen her for two months”Our topic is not a new one. Fathers have been generally ignored in western child welfare services since their inception in the 1850’s and beyond. Instead child welfare has focused on mothers and holding them individually responsible for quality of the care of children. However, we want to take a fresh look at father presence/ absence and its persistence in child welfare in spite of changes in conceptions of fatherhood. The quote is father speaking from our study, one who sought to affirm his presence in spite of his feeling that no one could actually see him
10Fathers in child welfare files 282 files randomly selected from 476 child welfare case files in a mid-size Canadian city116 files with identified father and documented child protection concerns
11Fathers in the filesThe data from our file review supports the contention that child welfare does not see fathers even when they are there.We reviewed 476 files over a 5 year period where teenage mothers gave birth. We selected 282 of these randomly for examination. In 116 of these a father or more was identified. In these 116 casesIn more than half of the families where a father was identified the fathers (the light green section) were seen as irrelevant…ghost fathers and were not included in the social worker’s efforts with the family.Even in those cases where the fathers were identified as a risk to the mothers (blue), social workers only contacted half of them. (When considered a risk to children, they were contacted even less frequently, 40% of the time.) Note that “contact” could mean anything from sending them a letter, to trying to phone them, to talking/meeting them.In the few instances when considered an asset to the children (the red section), they were contacted 75% of the time.)N = 130 fathers identified in child protection files50% of fathers considered a risk to mothers were not contacted by social workers
12Contact by social workers KidsMomsMomsKidsFathers who are risks to Mothers: social workers contacted 50% of the timeFathers who are risks to Children: social workers contacted 40% of the timeFathers who are assets to Mothers: social workers contacted 50% of the timeFathers who are assets to Children: social workers contacted 75% of the time.Contact is anything from sending a letter to leaving a phone message to having a phone conversation to having a meeting.Less than 50% of fathers considered a risk were “contacted” by social workers
13The making of “ghost” fathers Policies and administrative practicesProfessional practices and discoursesThe results of this study, supported by others, suggest that ghost fathers are consistently manufactured in the child welfare system through a series of discourses and practices. We posed the question… When do we fail to see those things that are right before our eyes? We provided three answers amongst others: when you are afraid to see them, when you aren’t required to see them and you are too busy, when you have not been taught to see them and they fade into the background. We will deal with the fear factor later in the presentation. At this point, we want to focus on administrative and professional practices that create “ghost fathers”.“no tradition nor training to see”
14Father absence: the child welfare policy context the concept of ‘risk’ implemented as the fundamental organising principle in child welfare;Gender neutral languagea gendered division of rights and responsibilities in regard to child rearing that is most visible in child welfare (the protective parent concept)
15Mother blaming and father absence Child welfare files routinely referenced in mother’s nameGender inequity in child welfare extensive and well documentedWorkers focus on mothers and ignore fathers and father figures even when they are the source of the family’s difficultiesFathers and father figures excluded fromconsideration as caregivers even when stateguardianship is the alternativeIn almost all North American jurisdictions, child welfare files are routinely referenced in mother’s name, a practice that implies culpability or at least responsibility for problems. This apparently minor matter of how files are kept is the tip of the iceberg in a mother–blaming system and while it appears as ‘common sense’, it is important to note that in Quebec and jurisdictions such as the UK files are referenced in children’s names.Gender inequity in child welfare practice is extensive and well documented. When children are neglected or abandoned, only mothers’ actions are scrutinized. Fathers can leave their children without being seen as abandoning them and can fail to feed, clothe or otherwise care for them without being seen to be neglectful (Swift, 1995). Workers focus on mothers and ignore fathers and father figures even when fathers are the source of the family’s difficulties (Bancroft & Silverman, 2002; Nixon, 2001; Scourfield, 2003; Strega, 2007) and even though these men often move from family to family (Featherstone, 2004; Radhakrishna, Bow-Sada, Hunter, Catellier & Kotch, 2001; Strega, 2004). Mothers are held to be at fault when children are physically or sexually assaulted by a father or father-figure (Krane, 2003; Radhakrishna et al., 2001) and required to act protectively in ways defined by the state. The assessment and intervention focus is on mother’s ‘availability’ and parenting skills, while “assailants and fathers of the children have been virtually ignored” (Sullivan et al, 2000, p. 590). Fathers and father figures are routinely excluded from consideration as caregivers even when state guardianship is the alternative (Strega et al., 2008).
16“Protection contracts” (Julia Krane 2003) Mothers required to act protectively in ways defined by the stateAgreements and orders focus on mothers’ inadequaciesRequire women to control, monitor and surveil the actions of men/fathersMen/fathers not constructed as either protectors or potential protectors, resources or potential resources or as responsible for ensuring children’s safety and well-beingThe state depends upon and expects women to carry out this “mother protector” service without clearly naming what it is that children need to be protected from (i.e. individual male perpetrators are rarely named and their specific acts are rarely listed)These orders and agreements and the policies on which they rely frame issues in gendered ways. The clearest example of the gendered nature of child welfare policies are those policies concerned with children’s ‘exposure’ to men beating their mothers and mothers’ alleged ‘failure to protect’ them from this exposure.
17Father invisibility – other contributing policies and practices Definitions of fatherhoodSocial assistance & ‘spouse in the house’Preserving Aboriginal entitlementsThe “new Managerialism” and the emphasis on efficiency, standardization, surveillance and “outcomes”In child welfare legislation and policy, whether or not a man is a father is “largely mediated by the relationship a man [has] with the mother of a child” (Eichler & McCall, 1993, p. 198) - Determining whether a man is a father depends on a combination of biological and social criteria including a gendered ‘occupational discourse’ (Scourfield, 2003) in child welfare. Haney and March….fatherhood defined by whether or not fathers are financially responsible for children.Low social assistance rates coupled with severe penalties for those accused of ‘welfare fraud’ contribute to mothers hiding the presence and contributions of fathers in order to maintain the benefits that provide for their children. Because social assistance legislation defines ‘spouse’ much more broadly than it is defined in other national and provincial legislation mothers are cautious about mentioning any contributions, financial or otherwise, from fathers or other involved men. This serves to decrease men's helping, support and contact with children. Welfare policies also lack provision for poor non-custodial fathers to maintain adequate space and resources to remain involved with their children, as rates are determined based on the number of children in the home or the size of the family unit and children are rarely residing with the father.Legislation and policy that use the gender neutral terminology ‘parent’ facilitate worker inclination to ignore fathers. Policy directs workers to assess whether one ‘parent’, described as the ‘non-offending parent’ is behaving ‘protectively’ – and it is usually mothers who occupy this role. So long as one parent is behaving protectively, then overworked child welfare workers avoid intervening directly with the other parent even when policy instructs workers that they must do so. Policy shifts mean the reduction of material support in favour of promoting illusory ideas of gender equality through language (Featherstone, 2006).Aboriginal women in Canada are often reluctant to ascribe paternity because they and their children are adversely affected by their children’s loss of benefits under the Indian Act (Mann: 2005). Between 1985 and 1999 nearly one in five children born to registered Canadian Indians had no paternity designated (Blackstock et al, 2004), a situation that is particularly serious given that in many Canadian provinces Aboriginal children make up more than half of the children in state care.
18Confirmation from workers It’s different when caseloads are smaller because we can be more thorough, but when caseloads are big, which they usually are, we look for outs and that’s an easy one. [BC social worker]
19“They’re trying to get through their cases “They’re trying to get through their cases. They’re not making good judgment calls because [it’s] on to the next case. They’re in a rush. And they’re devastating the lives of families in the process…it’s not all men. There are some women out there that are devastated by child welfare as well but you know in my experience, I mean I really felt they ruined my life.” (Henry, research participant.)
20Professional practices Failing to hold fathers to account for absence or violence (not charged with neglect, frequently violence ignored)We can monitor, encourage and offer services and look at what’s out there, not that there’s loads, but if they choose not to…then at that point you have this kind of, “we want you to do this assessment, identify work that you should do as a guy”, but he doesn’t have to within those proceedings. He can’t be compelled to do any assessment for anything. [UK social worker]Our study supports the evidence produced by Strug and Wilmore-Schaeffer in the U.S. (Chris’ findings: 43 course outlines reviewed, 2 readings that mention fathers.)As an ongoing test for this, we did a word search for this conference materials. Father came up 52 times and mother 115 times. Quite a few of those 'father' s came up in our abstract...but still an interesting 1:2 ratio overall. Encouragingly there are 3 or 4 presentations on fathers at this conference.Our file data indicates that workers consistently fail to hold fathers to account for their absence/violence. If they are not in the home, they are not seen as “neglecting” their children for child welfare purposes. If they are abusing their spouses, it is seen as a police matter or .It is not surprising then that fathers are often left out of treatment plans. Community agencies offering family services often replicate the gender biases of child welfare. Fathers are most often told to leave the home as the “treatment” option.
21Professional practices Getting rid of him as the intervention optionWhen I think of our more successful cases, the ones the social workers would be pleased with, they tend to be where the woman has been able to actually move and with support then change everything for herself and her children and that tends to mean separating from him. [UK social worker]Because how we’re trained is to get rid of the guy. I think if we can think about repairing the family dynamic rather than getting rid of somebody we might think differently, but we find whatever way we can get rid of him. [BC social worker]
22Professional practices Professional education33 BSW programs surveyed(response rate = 66%)3 provincial training programs for workers5% of syllabi had fathers content (in 3 programs)Consistent with fathers under-representation in popular parenting literature (4.2%, Fleming & Tobin, 2005)
23Biases reflected in these practices GenderClassRace and CultureWe suggest that what holds these practices in place are deeply held biases permeating the child welfare system and the western cultures of which they are a part. Three biases that we want to consider: gender, class and race.
24Gender bias: How fathers are not seen Mothers have to ‘break the cycle’The tradition cycleBad mothers produce bad mothersThe cycle of violenceChildren who witness/experienceviolence will grow up to be violent or victimsThe partner cycleBad mothers pick bad menIt is largely unfashionable to talk about gender bias anymore. It has become something of a “passe” concept in anti oppressive thinking. Yet gender bias remains almost unaltered in child welfare, in spite of many past efforts to confront it.Amongst the many aspects of gender bias in father absence is ongoing theorizing about “breaking the cycle” and mother blame. Briefly put, child welfare is founded on ideas that if social workers can successfully teach mothers how to do their job or remove children from homes where that is impossible, then the children will not go on to neglect or abuse their children. This traditional cycle leaves out fathers completely. (It also largely ignores the role and responsibility of the state as substitute parent).In recent years, breaking the cycle of family violence buttresses this basic notion: children who witness or experience violence will be more likely to engage in it themselves, something that mothers should protect them from. This second cycle requires mothers to protect children from fathers by banishing fathers, thus pushing them out of the pictureThirdly, we have observed the pressures on mothers to appear to remain single because they have “picked” bad men in the past. They can break the cycle by staying away from men or if they have a man, taking responsibility for making him “acceptable” to social workers and their demands.This theory of breaking the cycle is at the foundation of child welfare and places responsibilities on mothers, while ignoring the presence and responsibilities of fathers.“Women continue to be blamed for the majority of problems in families whereas men remain largely invisible, especially in the field of child welfare.” (Risley-Curtiss and Heffernan, 2003, 395).Failure to protect: mothers charged with protecting children from father’s violence or sexual behaviourBreaking the cycle: mothers are successful if they have few if any children or marry a good manRisk assessment: Mothers are responsible for social and individual risks that may harm their childrenBecoming a good parent: Mothers are responsible for attending programs to make them “a good parent”
25Father absence and mother blame Mothers held responsible for care and protection of children (e.g. neglect, child sexual abuse) as well as for nurturing the child-father relationshipAdolescent pregnancy and parenting focus is on mothers“Women continue to be blamed for the majority of problems in families whereas men remain largely invisible, especially in the field of child welfare” (Risley-Curtiss & Heffernan, 2003: 395).Father absence is connected with mother blame.
26Father absence and mother blame It's really difficult when all of your training and all of the procedures and everything tell you to go out and be child focused. If you can see damage happening to a child, you look around and you find the handy adult who sat there and is responsible. I mean the mother is responsible. You hold her responsible. [UK social worker]
27Father absence and mother blame It’s up to the mom to protect the children. So we talk to her only. We believe it’s the mom, the custodial parent, it’s up to her to be protective - or frequently he’s a stepparent. So it’s up to her to protect her children.[BC social worker]
28Class bias: Poor fathers don’t count Some underlying discourses:Good fathers aregood providersUnderclass discourse on dangerous menClass bias also permeates our discourse. In western societies, the most important role the father plays is as breadwinner, the financial supporter of the family. This middle class notion then means that poor unemployed men are not seen as fulfilling their duty as a good father. Indeed, the “stay at home dad” concept is a middle class one, as a poor dad who cares for his children does not get the title of stay at home dad, but is just seen as unemployed.There is also a growing discourse in the United States and other western countries around the worthiness of society’s poor, the underclass, to have children and families. The incidence of violence is also conflated with concepts of an underclass. This leads to the view of poor unemployed men as a potential risk to the safety of women and children, connecting with the cycle of violence mentioned before.Good parenting seems to go along with middle class standards of living.
29Race & culture bias: White western norms Some underlying discourses:Familialism and the ideal familyFathers responsibility for care of children optional, for mothers it’s notRacialized discourse on dangerous menThe ideal family is not only middle class, but is White with a mom and a dad (heterosexual) and 2 children, preferable one boy and one girl. And it is this Western notion that permeates our thinking and judges families that deviate, despite the fact that vast numbers of families in child welfare are not white, middle class. Systems have a hard time accounting for cultural or other differences in family forms. For example, even the genograms that social workers may generate when working with a family, with their biological x’s and o’s, reflect a certain type of family form. Attachment theory based in white ways of being.Violence and danger has also been racialized and this permeates thinking in child For example, racialized stereotypes of the “gang banger” is one of a young man of non-White racial origins.
30I didn’t want to be an Aboriginal Jack’s story of surviving colonizingchild welfare practices“…every baby she had was theirs…”Tell Jack’s story. Note the particular complications that Aboriginal fathers have to address.I Didn’t Want to be an Aboriginal is Jack’s story of surviving colonizing child welfare practices. Jack grew up ashamed of his family, of being an Aboriginal person. “I was ashamed of what I was. I didn’t want to be, I didn’t want to be an Aboriginal.” He hid his identity. “My best friends were not Aboriginal…..everybody thought we weren’t Aboriginal. So I pretended…” He grew up surrounded by violence and alcohol abuse. “I always used to be ashamed about my family and about how I grew up.” His parents had gone to residential school, but growing up he denied his history and culture.Jack’s children “belonged” to the child welfare authorities. The first two children were apprehended by child welfare and adopted out. The children’s mother had grown up in care herself and was using alcohol and drugs. The first child was apprehended at birth, they got pregnant again. “[Child welfare] said that every baby she had was theirs…..They took that one away too.” They went on to have more children, who also were apprehended but not put up for adoption. Jack currently has had custody returned and he worries what will happen if he isn’t able to care for them. He worries that child welfare will scatter his family. “I’m afraid for my kids….I want my kids to stay together.”At one point, child welfare had “decided to help us out and see if we can change.” Jack and his partner were “determined to get my children back and keep them……To be good and do whatever, you know it takes to raise a child. So they said okay. They let us keep this one. From then on we’ve, we’ve been keeping our children.” The children’s mother and Jack split up, and Jack kept the children. He trusted a local Aboriginal agency to help him change. “I couldn’t do it without, you know without the help of [the agency]…..I put my trust in [the agency].”Jack works hard to “prove” that he can change. “I’m going home to my children every night. I’m going home to them and looking after them. I’m making sure they’re being taken care of. They’re fed, they’re being clothed, they’re being taken to school.” He is involved in the community. “I’m also on the board at the [local] community centre. With the head start program I’m on the board there as well and the parent council there as well.”Part of this work is to look promising to the child welfare system. First he realized he needed to get over his reluctance to ask for help. “I used to be so scared to ask for help. I used to be too proud.” He is proactive in his children’s education.I have a meeting with the principal. It’s not because they called me in cause I want to be there……So my children see me, see me at the school working, at home sleeping, getting up, making them breakfast or whatever, putting a movie on for them, being there for them, not being drunk, not being violent, not hanging around with gang members.Jack knows that looking promising involves keeping the children under control. “They’re not going running on the streets, they’re not playing hooky, they’re not doing something they’re not supposed to be.” It also means keeping a neat home. As a support person commented, “finding their clothes all neatly folded in the drawers and in the closets. I’m like he does better parenting, housework than I do.” Dad compares himself to others as he worries about how to look promising. “The children were still in care…..that one lady had two like degrees from the university.”He struggles to remain looking promising and is always being tested. “I don’t want to party.” Yet this lifestyle is all around him. The mother has not left the party lifestyle and Jack has to manage her access to the family. “She’ll keep phoning me.” He tries to get her help but she doesn’t follow through. He tries to keep his children away from the gangs that live in his neighbourhood, “the hood.” “[Child welfare] came to tell me one time about my son being, running around with gang members. I said my son is not even eight years old yet. She said yeah well he was seen with gang members.” Dad is receiving financial assistance and says that “the welfare they still give me a hard time.” He does have a small part-time job that fits with the children’s school schedules, and takes different parenting programs. The financial assistance system wants more. “They wanted me to get a night job. Work in the night time, do all these programs in the day time.” With six children, that doesn’t seem possible to Jack. “She said put them in daycare.”Having shown promise and having his children returned to him, Jack puts effort into continuing to look promising. With the absence of family or friends as alternative, the only supports he has are paid supports. He has to keep reassuring everyone that he is keeping away from alcohol. He talks of wanting to move out of “the hood” to a better neighbourhood. He remains involved in the Parent Council at his children’s school and wants to be seen as a good parent. “I’m trying my best to do something for my children…..I put them in programs. I want to get them involved in things that they like, hip hop dancing. They want to take ballet so I got them signed up for that. …I got them into swimming. ….floor hockey…whatever they want to do.” He never feels he can stop proving himself, that he’s done a good job. A support worker comments what an excellent job he has done, despite everything in his background. He’s pulled himself out of the pack. “He’s got all his kids back and he’s doing wonderful. You know if he can do it anybody can do it.”
32Being seen…as a riskBe confrontational, difficult and demanding with social workersControl social worker’s access to mother and children
33What is the impact of not seeing fathers? For Fathers……….Not held accountable for their parenting roleNot held accountable for their behaviour or its impactsNot seen nor do they see themselves as a contributing member of the familySo fathers are ghosts in child welfare, but what is the impact of not seeing fathers? There is an impact on father, mothers, children and professionals.ASK AUDIENCE TO COME UP WITH IMPACTS……..Impact on Fathers:Not held accountable for their parenting roleNot held accountable for their behaviour,Not seen nor see themselves as a contributing member of the familyFathers in child welfare are living out the paradox. They are part of the culture and so hear about fathering, and yet are not seen as good enough to do it. They are not held accountable for their role as fathers. Indeed they are not held accountable by child welfare for their behaviours, rather their behaviours are ignored or distanced from child welfare. As a result, neither fathers, their families or child welfare see them as contributing members of the family. The system discourages them from being contributors to the family and encourages father to not be accountable (Get men away from the family - Father as danger, as irresponsible, etc.)
34What is the impact of not seeing fathers? For Mothers…….Fulfill all parenting rolesFacilitate relationships with children and fathersProvide surveillance and civilizing fathersMonitor how social systems including child welfare view and/or do not see fathersASK AUDIENCEImpact on mothers:Fulfill all parenting rolesFacilitate relationships with children and fathersProvide surveillance and civilizing fathersMonitor how social systems including child welfare view and/or do not see fathersNot seeing fathers has a significant impact on mothers as well. Mothers are expected to fill the role of parent, both parents. And mothers are put in the middle of relationships, often facilitating relationships between children and their fathers. Whether its putting up barriers between them, or orchestrating family life so fathers and children can have a relationship, it is mothers work.Child welfare holds mothers responsible for monitoring the behaviour of the men in the children’s lives. Mothers are charged with keeping surveillance on fathers, and for civilizing them. It is up to mothers to make men into acceptable fathers and to present them as such. Mothers therefore continually monitor when and how child welfare and other social systems see fathers. For a myriad of reasons, mothers sometimes want to keep fathers invisible to the system. Whether it’s because they fear being judged as picking yet another “bad guy”, or because their income assistance will be affected or a host of other reasons, it is mothers who mediate the seeing and not-seeing of ghost fathers. And if seen, it is mothers who are held responsible for constructing the image of fathers. In the review of the files we did, the picture of the fathers represented in the file was most often based on information provided by mothers.
35What is the impact of not seeing fathers? For Children…….Not evident in our dataSurmise their uncertainty about fathers’ value and tendency to ostracize or romanticize fathersSo whats the impact on the kids? ASK AUDIENCE.Not evident in our dataSurmise their uncertainty about fathers’ value and tendency to ostrasize/romantize fathersIn this research project we have focused on fathers, and in previous research we have looked at young mothers and at grandmothers involved in child welfare. We have not yet talked to children. Yet we surmise from interviews with moms, dads, extended family and professionals that children are uncertain about fathers’ value to the family. Some ghost fathers are ostrasized by the children as they take on the views of fathers as dangerous and non-contributing. Other ghost fathers seem to be romantized through their absence, as the unknown father becomes the hero the children wait to be rescued by.
36What is the impact of not seeing fathers? For policy makers & social workers….Able to ignore possible father dangerAble to ignore possible father resourcesNo challenge made to present discourse, policies and practicesASK AUDIENCEAble to ignore possible father dangerAble to ignore possible father resourcesNo challenge made to present discourse, policies and practicesChild welfare policy makers and social workers are also impacted. Indeed, by not having to see fathers they are able to ignore possible real dangers that fathers may pose to their families. Similarly, workers are able to ignore fathers as potential resources to families. These professionals are not held accountable for engaging fathers, it is not a standard part of everyday practice. In fact, as our research showed, it is rare that workers actually engaged fathers in any way, no long in any meaningful way. We used a very generous definition of “contact” in our study….including the sending of a letter or leaving a phone message and still fathers were not “seen”.Our preliminary data from our interviews indicates that fathers see themselves as fulfilling some roles as fathers but they continually struggle to be seen.By not seeing fathers, there is no challenge made to present discourses, policies and practices. There is no visible other voice or perspective that would facilitate new thinking.
37Ghostbusting: towards a father inclusive approach to practice It’s time for mother blame to be out of fashion.So you know, it’s like these people need to start opening up their eyes a little bit more and looking at our perspective, our point of view instead of always judging the woman….this old fashioned thinking doesn’t get you nowhere but old fashioned thinking (Kyle, research participant).Avoid holding mothers responsible for monitoring and controlling men’s behaviours.Seek out and engage with fathers, both as risks and as assets.
38Engaging fathers – Fathers speak Working with me, not working at me.“They’re helping me … they’re not against me. So that’s what helped me to become this.”Bill’s story of worker visiting him in jail, supporting him to step up and be a father. Versus new worker who was waiting for him to fail.“I feel like I’m being watched,but that’s my role, I’m paranoid.”
39Engaging fathers – Fathers speak Providing concrete resources, support and information.“I’ve had a lot of support to become a different, a better parent.”“She takes one baby maybe I take one baby to sort of make it easier and stuff like that.”“Sit on that couch until [child welfare] gets here!”
40Engaging fathers – Fathers speak Being in relationship, keeping fathers informed and involved….not out in the cold.“I have a relationship with them – like the workers. Like you know they knew me.”Explain the realities of child welfare and offer support and advocacy as needed….don’t leave them out in the cold.“I was justanother casein their batchof files thatthey had.”
41A father’s plea to workers “…instead of letting thewillow bend you know,you don’t have to snapthe damn thing in half.You can let it bend andlet it go back and it’llswing on forever. Youdon’t have to snap thedamn thing to make itwork.”
42Workers speak (1) Difficult and challenging to work with fathers. Nobody goes anywhere near him. I certainly feel that about social services. We're always working with women. The men are out, in the pub, in the shed, over at their mothers- they’re somewhere else, aren’t they? So working really hard to engage what are fairly scary blokes, they're not necessarily scary to professionals, but some of them are, and say to them that their behaviour is unacceptable and some work needs to be done is much harder than it sounds, considering that we do that all the time to women. [Social worker]
43Workers speak (2) Lack of resources for fathers I don’t want to open up that Pandora's box. [BC social worker]I think it’s recognised in things like ‘Working together’, recognising that it should happen, it doesn’t actually say how and who should be doing it and so on. In terms of how social workers are able to do that on top of everything else that they’ve got to do, and about whether we’ve got the skills to do that… [UK social worker]I think often men in families continue to be on the periphery and we continue to keep them there for all sorts of reasons. [UK social worker]
44Workers speak (3)Getting rid of father in one family means he will just fetch up in anotherMost of them walk away and go off to find new families. There’s lots of times I meet the mom and she’ll say he did the same thing to his last family. She’ll even have a copy of the restraining order that he brought with him from the other relationship. [BC social worker]
45Workers speak (4)Workers want policy change that supports working with fathersWe can monitor, encourage and offer services and look at what’s out there, not that there’s loads, but if they choose not to…then at that point you have this kind of, “we want you to do this assessment, identify work that you should do as a guy”, but he doesn’t have to within those proceedings. He can’t be compelled to do any assessment for anything. [UK social worker]
46Policy & legislative reform Eliminate ‘failure to protect’ as a categoryDevelop policies that encourage engaging ‘safe’ fathers or those who can become ‘safer’.Compulsory registration of birth fathers?Apply a ‘gender lens’ to legislation and policyActively pursue social policies that better resource disadvantaged single mothersReplace with legislation and policies that recognize that “fathers” and “abusers” do not represent distinct categories (Featherstone, 2006). Bancroft and Silverman (2002) advocate policies that not only directly target perpetrator behaviour but recognize that battering a child’s mother is a specific category of abuse, one that they call ‘interference with parenting’. Policies that name and confront violence already exist. For example, both Northern Ireland and MassachusettsAs Scourfield (2006) notes, the welfare state was premised on a male breadwinner /female caregiver model and this legacy lives on in child welfare and social policies that continue to primarily focus on men as a source of financial support and therefore fail to nurture the continued involvement of men who are emotionally attached but unable to financially provide for their children/families. Policy makers generally focus on men’s connections to their children (biological, institutional, financial) as defining fatherhood,De Mino (2000) and other fathers’ rights activists propose the institutionalization of a mandatory and universal system for ascertaining paternity at birth, similar to systems currently in use in several European countries (Sweden, Denmark, Germany), in order to ensure a father’s ‘right’ to contact. In these countries, as McLanahan and Carlson ( ) note, the vast majority of unmarried fathers are living with the mother at the time of the child’s birth. But the current socio-political context in these countries differs substantially from the Canadian one insofar as state services and supports continue to be available to those in need whether or not there is a ‘spouse in the house’.Because involving fathers does not, as noted, automatically improve children’s lives, we must in concert with developing policies that encourage father involvement actively pursue social policies that better resource disadvantaged single mothers as well as developing policies that encourage engaging ‘safe’ fathers or those who can become ‘safer’.
47Principles and practice strategies First Practice StrategyAcknowledge their presenceFirst PrincipleAcknowledge their existenceFirst principle: acknowledge their existence [cite large number of files in our study with no named father – even the sometimes compelling reasons why fathers are ignored can’t account for these too high numbers]First practice strategy: acknowledge their presence – therefore find and contact them [in our study, even when a father was identified, contact was minimal] [need for a broad definition of father]
48Principles and practice strategies Second Practice StrategyBe strengths-focusedSecond PrincipleUnderstand there are many different ways to be a fatherSecond principle; understand there are many different ways to be a fatherSecond practice strategy; be strengths-focused (notice, emphasise and support all positive involvement from fathers; we know from research such as young mothers that even when children grow up in care they often re-establish contact once they age out of care, so do what you can to foster a positive relationship, even if by phone) [holistic nature of fathering, 4 parts of Medicine Wheel: some quadrants may be OK, so emphasise them, while others may need nurturing]Realize that these men remain fathers forever….give eg of father waiting till kids age out of care.
49Principles and practice strategies Third Practice StrategyRespectful practice involves holding fathers accountableThird PrincipleViolence does not necessarily eliminate men from being involved as fathers, but it must be taken up directly with themThird principle: violence does not necessarily eliminate men from being involved as fathers, but it must be taken up directly with themThird practice strategy: respectful practice involves holding fathers accountable (Ferguson & Hogan, Peled have ideas for engaging with violent men; Richardson & Wade also [they will have a chapter in the book]; remember that fathering/parenting programs rarely address violence and violence programs rarely address parenting; risk reduction plans and supervision orders must directly address fathers)
50Principles and practice strategies Fourth Practice StrategyProvide support to enable fathers to take responsibilityFourth PrincipleFathers are responsible for their childrenFourth principle: basic AOP – understand the contextFourth practice strategy: be knowledgeable about structural contexts and how location affects father involvement (respect the need for some fathers to ‘fly under the radar’; understand implications of the Indian Act for naming fathers, etc.)
51Principles and practice strategies Fifth PrincipleUnderstand the context (practice anti-oppressively)Fifth Practice StrategyBe knowledgeable about structural contexts and how location affects father involvementFourth principle: basic AOP – understand the contextFourth practice strategy: be knowledgeable about structural contexts and how location affects father involvement (respect the need for some fathers to ‘fly under the radar’; understand implications of the Indian Act for naming fathers, etc.)
52A wish for care and respect “They could have given me the respect.”“They did their jobs. You know they certainly didn’t go an extra mile.”“It’s caring; instead of business-like caring where you have to care, she wants to care.”