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The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children
Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children's Bureau Rosenberg, Jeffrey., Wilcox, W. Bradford.|
|Year Published: 2006|
5. Fathers and Initial Assessment and Investigation
Fathers have, traditionally, not been as involved in child welfare case planning as mothers. Worker bias regarding father involvement appears to be the most widely researched barrier to fathers' participation in child welfare case planning. One study found that caseworkers did not pay attention to birth fathers to the degree that they did to birth mothers.64 At the same time, the fathers did not respond to outreach efforts as well as mothers, which testifies to the need to approach fathers with an understanding of their unique needs and feelings. At least in this one study, caseworkers were found to require that fathers demonstrate their connection to the child whereas the mothers' connection was taken for granted.65 Of course, characteristics of fathers who do not live with their children also can contribute to the difficulties in successfully engaging fathers—incarceration, homelessness, substance abuse, to name a few.
Certainly the safety of the child and family is the most important goal of child protection. Not all fathers should be included in the child protective services (CPS) case plan. When a father has been the perpetrator of abuse, and the conclusion is reached that working with the father can promote neither safety nor permanence for the child, then the caseworker's focus must remain with other members of the family. This conclusion, however, must be reached only after the family assessment is complete—it cannot be assumed. How to involve fathers effectively in the initial assessment process is the focus of this chapter.
Understanding One's Own Biases
Everyone's views regarding fatherhood are likely to be colored by their own experience with their fathers, and, with caseworkers, perhaps by their clinical experience. Simply put, it is impossible to be without biases and preconceptions about fathers. For any professional working with men, especially caseworkers in the very difficult and emotionally charged realm of child protective services, it is important to recognize and understand one's own biases and preconceptions.
To work successfully with fathers, caseworkers must know what their own biases and preconceptions are about fatherhood and fathers. Once caseworkers understand these, they can more readily do a self-check throughout the case to ensure that these biases are not affecting their view of the families with whom they work.
Fathers and the Assessment Process
Fathers, whether or not they are the perpetrator of the child maltreatment, must play an important part in the initial assessment or investigation process. This includes fathers who do not live with their children.
|Initial CPS Assessment or Investigation|
As described in Child Protective Services: A Guide for Caseworkers, the purpose of the initial assessment or investigation is:
to gather and analyze information in response to CPS reports, to interpret the agency's role to the children and families, and to determine which families will benefit from further agency intervention. After interviewing all parties and gathering all relevant information, CPS caseworkers must determine whether maltreatment has occurred and can be substantiated. In most States, CPS staff are mandated by law to determine whether the report is substantiated or founded (meaning that credible evidence indicates that abuse or neglect has occurred) or whether the report is unsubstantiated or unfounded (meaning that there is a lack of credible evidence to substantiate child maltreatment—but does not mean it did not necessarily occur). Depending on State law, CPS agencies usually have up to 30, 60, or 90 days after receiving the report to complete the initial assessment or investigation. A major part of the initial assessment or investigation includes determining whether there is a risk or likelihood of maltreatment occurring in the future and whether the child is safe (not at risk of imminent, serious harm). In addition, CPS caseworkers must decide whether ongoing services to reduce risk and assure safety should be provided by the CPS agency or other community partners.66
If the father of the child does not live in the home, the caseworker should find out where the father is. Whether in the home or not, the caseworker should also:
- Understand what type of relationship the father has with his child and the family.
- Learn about how the father of the child fits into the current family dynamics.
- Understand what role the father plays either in contributing to the circumstances that led to maltreatment or in helping to protect the child from further maltreatment.
An assessment or investigation cannot be considered complete until these issues are addressed and understood to the fullest extent possible.
The first decision point in the assessment process is substantiating that maltreatment actually occurred. The second decision point is assessing risk. Risk assessment involves evaluating the child and family's situation to identify and weigh the risk factors, family strengths, and resources, and agency and community services.67 Assessing risk involves gathering information in four key domains: the maltreatment itself, the child, caregivers, and family functioning.
Fathers clearly need to be interviewed as part of the assessment or investigation. This is recommended whether the father is living with the child or not. The reasons why it is important to interview fathers who live outside the home include the following:
- The father is significant to the child, whether the father is actively involved in the child's life or not.
- The nonresidential father has an important impact on the dynamics of the family.
- If placement outside of the home should be necessary, the biological father may prove to be a suitable placement.
- The nonresidential father may play a role in ameliorating the circumstances that led to the abuse.
During the initial assessment or investigation, caseworkers must gather and analyze a great deal of information from the child victim, family members, and other sources who may be knowledgeable about the alleged maltreatment or the risk to and safety of the children. Child Protective Services: A Guide for Caseworkers provides a detailed exhibit of the types of information that caseworkers should gather from each source (see http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/cps/exhibit6_2.cfm).
While conducting interviews with fathers, the caseworker should be aware of some unique issues relevant to fathers that may prove useful in understanding the father's role in the family. For fathers who live in the home, caseworkers should address the following topics:
- What role does the father view himself playing in the family?
- How does the father view the maltreatment that occurred? Does he see it as a failure on his part? Does he experience the fact that his child was maltreated as an affront to how he views himself as a man and a father?
- Is there anything he personally believes he could have done differently to prevent the maltreatment?
- What role models as a father has he himself had? How does the father believe these role models would or should have handled the situation that led to the maltreatment?
- If the father was the perpetrator, it will be important to explore his views of discipline and how he came to learn what is appropriate discipline. It will also be important to explore the role of aggression and anger in the father's life to help determine the risk the father may present in the future. Is he, for example, open to learning new ways of discipline?
- What is the relationship between the father and the mother of the child(ren), and how does he interact with her?
- Are there other men involved with the family, how does the father view these men, and what is the type and quality of their relationship?
For fathers who live outside the child's home, topics to explore include:
- What is the current living arrangement of the father vis-à-vis the home in which his child lives?
- Is there another man living in the home with the child? How does the child's father view this man and his relationship with his child and the mother of his child?
- How often does the father see his child? If and when he does see the child, what is the nature of the interaction?
The CPS caseworker must keep in mind that traditional roles of fathers—provider, protector, and teacher—still have great meaning for men today. Whether or not the father is the perpetrator, a man very often views the maltreatment of his child as a failure on his part—a failure to protect his child, for example. It is equally important to recognize that the entire self-perception of "manliness" and "fatherhood" are deeply intertwined. In every culture, "being a man" is loaded with deep meaning and these meanings vary across cultures. Caseworkers who try to understand the dynamics of the family need to recognize what "manliness" and "fatherhood" mean to the men in that family. Appendix D, Cultural Competence Self-assessment Questionnaire, can also help an agency and its caseworkers address their cultural competency training needs as they relate to the father and families they serve.
Determining Whether to Involve Other Professionals
If, as the assessment progresses, significant questions still exist about the risks and strengths in the family, the caseworker may find it valuable to utilize outside referrals. Given the importance that the father can play in the assessment process, the caseworker may need to turn to an outside professional if unable to gather sufficient information about the father and his role in the dynamics that caused the maltreatment.
For example, for some men and in some cultures, it is extremely difficult to speak to a woman about issues relating to family and to fatherhood. In such a case, the caseworker may find it valuable to have the father meet with a professional who is experienced working with fathers. Such a professional may be found within the same social services agency or at another organization within the community. The challenge here is that, while today, in nearly every community there is a program dedicated to supporting and helping fathers, many of the staff may not be sensitive to and knowledgeable about issues related to child maltreatment. Prior to involving staff from such an organization in the assessment process, it is important to inquire whether they have had experience with fathers who have been involved, either as a perpetrator or a non-offending adult in the family, in a child maltreatment case. If they have not, then ask if there is a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker with whom the organization works who is good at working with fathers. Such a professional may bring an understanding of child maltreatment, combined with experience working with fathers, to the CPS assessment process. Also keep in mind that for many fathers, the outside professional may be a religious leader at the religious institution the father attends.
CPS workers, however, may or may not be able to locate such programs easily, depending on the resources in the community, but generally finding a fatherhood program in a local community should not be too difficult. Today, there are numerous such programs, examples of which are presented in Section II of the manual. In addition to colleagues and to local social service experts, two good resources mentioned previously are the National Center for Fathering (1.800.593.DADS; www.fathers.com) and the National Fatherhood Initiative (301.948.0599; www.fatherhood.org).
The local child support enforcement offices also may prove to be a good resource. Obviously, they have a great deal of experience working with fathers. Many low-income fathers may still perceive child support as an enforcement agency rather than a helping tool. Over the past several years, child support offices have strived to become a supportive service to fathers by helping them with challenges ranging from defeating substance abuse, successfully returning to family life after incarceration, and developing job skills. However, since misperceptions about local child support offices remain common among low-income fathers, the caseworker needs to be sensitive to these misperceptions.
64Sonenstien, F., Malm, K., & Billing. A. (2002). Study
of fathers' involvement in permanency planning and child
welfare casework [On-line]. Available: aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/CW-dads02; Greif, G. L., & Zuravin, S. J. (1989). Fathers: A placement resource for abused and neglected children? Child Welfare, 68(5), 479-490; Franck, E. J. (2001). Outreach to birthfathers of children in out-of-home-care. Child Welfare, 80(3), 381-399. back
65 Sonenstien, F., et al. (2002); Greif, G. L., & Zuravin, S. J. (1989); Franck, E. J. (2001). back
66 DePanfilis, D., & Salus, M.K. (2003). Child protective services: A guide for caseworkers [On-line]. Available: http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/cps/. back
67 Pecora, P. J., Whittaker, J. K., Maluccio, A. N., Barth, R. P., & Plotnick, R. D. (2000). The child welfare challenge (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Aldine de Gruyter. back
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