The absence of fathers in child and family welfare practice

2017-01-16T00:00:08Z (GMT) by Fleming, Joseph Silvio
Fathers and father figures in child and family welfare have been a neglected topic and focus of social research and interest in Australia. Yet fathers are more than ever being recognised as being a key to the functioning of the family, mostly driven by social policy trends to include fathers more in family life. The absence or the lack of presence of fathers in child and family welfare practice has not been viewed in the literature as a problem for men but as a problem and injustice to women. This is because they are ultimately the ones carrying the burden of care and so are subjected to child protection investigation when there are reports of child abuse. By looking at the diverse dimensions of fatherhood, it is contended that there is no definitive discourse regarding fatherhood in the same way as it is suggested about motherhood. Whoever these fathers are and whichever ethnic group or culture they may originate from, it is argued that they have been ignored or avoided in child and family welfare practice settings. This study examines child and family social and health workers own experiences of fathers and father figures in their daily practice. The study was exploratory and qualitative in its approach and design, which incorporated a Grounded Theory Methodology (GTM). Both semi-structured interviews and a survey questionnaire were conducted with child and family welfare professionals. The themes explored related to the literature on fathers in health and family welfare and father involvement, particularly focusing on the concept of father absence in practice. The substantive theory which emerged from the data, explains the process that occurred when social welfare and health professionals were asked to discuss their experiences of fathers in their practice. Not knowing fathers emerged as the core category that arose from the data and represented the complexity that practitioners expressed when they were asked about their professional experiences with fathers. This core category subsequently led to the psychosocial problem being studied which was the absence of fathers from their practice. This psychosocial problem developed from four key influencing factors that emerged from analysis of the data. These four key influencing factors were: the absence of practice theories, the absence of service knowledge, the absence of engagement opportunities and the absence of alternatives to their personal biographies. The findings in this study have important implications for social work practice as well as other professionals working with children and families. The major findings of this study suggested that more needs to be done to address the gap between practice and theory about gender, and in particular, how it is constructed in child and family welfare services. Appropriate support systems, which include making changes to agencies‘ practices with fathers, as well as appropriate training and education in working with fathers and men, needs to be available to practitioners to help facilitate effective practice with mothers, women, fathers and children respectively.