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Manufacturing Ghost Fathers Fathering and Exclusion in Child Welfare.

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Presentation on theme: "Manufacturing Ghost Fathers Fathering and Exclusion in Child Welfare."— Presentation transcript:

1 Manufacturing Ghost Fathers Fathering and Exclusion in Child Welfare

2 Who we are A research team of Canadian and UK scholars: Leslie Brown, Susan Strega Marilyn Callahan, Lena Dominelli, & Christopher Walmsley Funded by SSHRC Based at the University of Victoria

3 Where are the fathers? Previous research projects:  Young moms  ‘Failure to protect’  Grandmothers raising grandchildren

4 The research study Multiple Data Sources and Methods Policy review Literature review Study of case files (N= 282) quantitative and qualitative data Survey of BSW syllabi (Canadian social work undergraduate courses) Qualitative interviews with fathers(11) Focus group interviews with practitioners (5)

5 How do you get to be a ‘father’? Through association with a woman who is a mother Through behaving in a parental manner Through a legal or administrative act A contested concept (Eichler & McCall, 1993)

6 What this presentation will address Manufacturing Ghost Fathers Risks & Opportunities for Engaging Fathers

7 The First Paradox of fathers in child welfare Contemporary popular and professional discourses promote the involved father Nonetheless child welfare policies and practices (Canada, UK, US) promote the uninvolved father

8 The Second Paradox Fathers exist in the lives of women and children in child welfare Fathers are rarely seen by child welfare, even when present

9 Ghost 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”

10 Fathers in child welfare files 282 files randomly selected from 476 child welfare case files in a mid-size Canadian city 116 files with identified father and documented child protection concerns

11 Fathers in the files N = 130 fathers identified in child protection files 50% of fathers considered a risk to mothers were not contacted by social workers

12 Contact by social workers Moms Kids Moms Kids Less than 50% of fathers considered a risk were “contacted” by social workers

13 The making of “ghost” fathers Policies and administrative practices Professional practices and discourses “no tradition nor training to see”

14 Father absence: the child welfare policy context the concept of ‘risk’ implemented as the fundamental organising principle in child welfare; Gender neutral language a gendered division of rights and responsibilities in regard to child rearing that is most visible in child welfare (the protective parent concept)

15 Mother blaming and father absence Child welfare files routinely referenced in mother’s name Gender inequity in child welfare extensive and well documented Workers focus on mothers and ignore fathers and father figures even when they are the source of the family’s difficulties Fathers and father figures excluded from consideration as caregivers even when state guardianship is the alternative

16 “Protection contracts” (Julia Krane 2003) Mothers required to act protectively in ways defined by the state Agreements and orders focus on mothers’ inadequacies Require women to control, monitor and surveil the actions of men/fathers Men/fathers not constructed as either protectors or potential protectors, resources or potential resources or as responsible for ensuring children’s safety and well-being

17 Father invisibility – other contributing policies and practices Definitions of fatherhood Social assistance & ‘spouse in the house’ Preserving Aboriginal entitlements The “new Managerialism” and the emphasis on efficiency, standardization, surveillance and “outcomes”

18 Confirmation 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 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.)

20 Professional 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]

21 Professional practices Getting rid of him as the intervention option When 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]

22 Professional practices Professional education 33 BSW programs surveyed (response rate = 66%) 3 provincial training programs for workers 5% of syllabi had fathers content (in 3 programs) Consistent with fathers under-representation in popular parenting literature (4.2%, Fleming & Tobin, 2005)

23 Biases reflected in these practices Gender Class Race and Culture

24 Gender bias: How fathers are not seen Mothers have to ‘break the cycle’ The tradition cycle Bad mothers produce bad mothers The cycle of violence Children who witness/experience violence will grow up to be violent or victims The partner cycle Bad mothers pick bad men

25 Father 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 relationship Adolescent 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).

26 Father 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]

27 Father 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]

28 Class bias: Poor fathers don’t count Some underlying discourses: Good fathers are good providers Underclass discourse on dangerous men

29 Race & culture bias: White western norms Some underlying discourses: Familialism and the ideal family Fathers responsibility for care of children optional, for mothers it’s not Racialized discourse on dangerous men

30 I didn’t want to be an Aboriginal Jack’s story of surviving colonizing child welfare practices “…every baby she had was theirs…”

31 Being seen Act like a middle-class white mother

32 Being seen…as a risk Be confrontational, difficult and demanding with social workers Control social worker’s access to mother and children

33 What is the impact of not seeing fathers? For Fathers………. Not held accountable for their parenting role Not held accountable for their behaviour or its impacts Not seen nor do they see themselves as a contributing member of the family

34 What is the impact of not seeing fathers? For Mothers……. Fulfill all parenting roles Facilitate relationships with children and fathers Provide surveillance and civilizing fathers Monitor how social systems including child welfare view and/or do not see fathers

35 What is the impact of not seeing fathers? For Children……. Not evident in our data Surmise their uncertainty about fathers’ value and tendency to ostracize or romanticize fathers

36 What is the impact of not seeing fathers? For policy makers & social workers…. Able to ignore possible father danger Able to ignore possible father resources No challenge made to present discourse, policies and practices

37 Ghostbusting: 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.

38 Engaging fathers – Fathers speak Working with me, not working at me. “I feel like I’m being watched, but that’s my role, I’m paranoid.” “They’re helping me … they’re not against me. So that’s what helped me to become this.”

39 Engaging fathers – Fathers speak Providing concrete resources, support and information. “She takes one baby maybe I take one baby to sort of make it easier and stuff like that.” “I’ve had a lot of support to become a different, a better parent.” “Sit on that couch until [child welfare] gets here!”

40 Engaging fathers – Fathers speak Being in relationship, keeping fathers informed and involved….not out in the cold. “I was just another case in their batch of files that they had.” “I have a relationship with them – like the workers. Like you know they knew me.”

41 A father’s plea to workers “…instead of letting the willow bend you know, you don’t have to snap the damn thing in half. You can let it bend and let it go back and it’ll swing on forever. You don’t have to snap the damn thing to make it work.”

42 Workers 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]

43 Workers 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]

44 Workers speak (3) Getting rid of father in one family means he will just fetch up in another Most 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]

45 Workers speak (4) Workers want policy change that supports working with fathers 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]

46 Policy & legislative reform Eliminate ‘failure to protect’ as a category Develop policies that encourage engaging ‘safe’ fathers or those who can become ‘safer’. Compulsory registration of birth fathers? Apply a ‘gender lens’ to legislation and policy Actively pursue social policies that better resource disadvantaged single mothers

47 Principles and practice strategies First Principle Acknowledge their existence First Practice Strategy Acknowledge their presence

48 Principles and practice strategies Second Principle Understand there are many different ways to be a father Second Practice Strategy Be strengths-focused

49 Principles and practice strategies Third Principle Violence does not necessarily eliminate men from being involved as fathers, but it must be taken up directly with them Third Practice Strategy Respectful practice involves holding fathers accountable

50 Principles and practice strategies Fourth Principle Fathers are responsible for their children Fourth Practice Strategy Provide support to enable fathers to take responsibility

51 Principles and practice strategies Fifth Principle Understand the context (practice anti- oppressively) Fifth Practice Strategy Be knowledgeable about structural contexts and how location affects father involvement

52 A 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.”


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