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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|
1. Purpose and Overview
Child protective services (CPS) caseworkers are charged with a task that is both crucial to society and, at times, overwhelming to the individual caseworker: determining when this nation's most vulnerable citizens—children—are in danger and what actions must be taken to ensure their safety. Then, they must make sure that these actions take place in both a timely and sensitive manner.
To carry out their responsibilities of protecting children at risk of maltreatment, CPS caseworkers must effectively engage families that often both present and face great challenges. These can include substance abuse, mental health problems, economic stress, unemployment, separation and divorce, inadequate housing, crime, and incarceration. Figuring out how best to work with and engage these families, always with the safety of and permanency for the child as the goal, is not easy. Other manuals in this series, particularly Child Protective Services: A Guide for Caseworkers, provide insight into what years of experience and research tell us about effective casework in the field of child welfare. This manual, The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children, complements and builds on the strategies for CPS articulated in the other manuals.
This manual also speaks to both the opportunities and challenges presented by one participant in the family sagas that CPS caseworkers deal with everyday: the father. Working with fathers who are the perpetrators of child maltreatment is different than working with mothers or other perpetrators. In addition, fathers whose children were victimized by someone else, even fathers not living with their children, can prove to be a valuable ally as the CPS caseworker pursues his or her case planning objectives.
Effectively involving fathers in case planning and service provision presents unique challenges for caseworkers. This may explain in part why they often may not include fathers. This manual hopes to provide guidance to rectify this problem. While many of the issues facing fathers as they try to be good parents are the same as those facing mothers—stress, finances, limited time, to name a few—how fathers perceive and react to these is usually different and is often grounded in cultural views of manhood and fatherhood. Plus, the abuse of a child raises unique feelings and reactions in a father. Whether the father is the perpetrator or not, the abuse of a child can be a direct affront to how a father views himself as a man and a father. How well a caseworker understands these reactions and feelings and how effectively the caseworker can address them will make a major difference when trying to either help an abusing father become a protecting father or engaging a father as an ally in addressing the family dynamics that made the situation unsafe for the child.
1.1 Purpose of the Manual
Today, there is an increased emphasis on family-centered practice. Family-centered practice does not mean only mother-and-child-centered practice.1 Rather, all family members and individuals who play a role in the family should be engaged, when appropriate, in order to support meaningful outcomes for the entire family. This manual is designed to help caseworkers:
- Recognize the value of fathers to children;
- Appreciate the importance of fathers to the case planning and service provision process;
- Understand the issues unique to working with fathers;
- Effectively involve fathers in all aspects of case management, from assessment through case closure;
- Work successfully with fathers in the wide range of family situations and structures.
Section I of this manual discusses what is known about a father's connection to his child's well-being, including his role in the occurrence and prevention of maltreatment. The section also relates the literature on fatherhood to the different stages of the child protection process. Section II provides practical guidance for starting and running a fatherhood program, presents various examples of existing programs, and describes Federal fatherhood initiatives. CPS agencies can also use this information to ensure that they are providing a father-friendly environment. The appendices offer additional resources, including a glossary of terms, resource listings, and tips that CPS workers can share with fathers to help them be better parents.
1.2 Overview of the Scope of Child Maltreatment and Child Protection
Prior to delving into the discussion of fathers and their role in both preventing and perpetrating child maltreatment, it is useful to understand the scope of the problem. The following findings from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) for 2003 provide a snapshot of reported child victimization:
- During 2003, an estimated 906,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect.
- An estimated 2.9 million referrals of abuse or neglect concerning approximately 5.5 million children were received by CPS agencies. More than two-thirds of those referrals were accepted for investigation or assessment.
- Nationally, 60.9 percent of child victims experienced neglect (including medical neglect), 18.9 percent were physically abused, 9.9 percent were sexually abused, and 4.9 percent were emotionally or psychologically maltreated.
- Approximately two-fifths (40.8 percent) of child victims were maltreated by their mothers acting alone; another 18.8 percent were maltreated by their fathers acting alone; 16.9 percent were abused by both parents.2
In most jurisdictions, CPS is the agency mandated to conduct an investigation into reports of child abuse or neglect and to offer services to families and children where maltreatment has occurred or is likely to occur. Of course, any intervention into family life on behalf of children must be guided by State laws, sound professional standards for practice, and strong philosophical underpinnings. The key principles guiding State laws on child protection are based largely on Federal statutes, primarily the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) as amended by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-36) and the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 (P.L. 105-89). While CAPTA provides definitions and guidelines regarding child maltreatment issues, ASFA promotes three national goals for child protection:
- Safety. All children have the right to live in an environment free from abuse and neglect. The safety of children is the paramount concern that must guide child protection efforts.
- Permanency. Children need a family and a permanent place to call home. A sense of continuity and connectedness is central to a child's healthy development.
- Child and family well-being. Children deserve nurturing families and environments in which their physical, emotional, educational, and social needs are met. Child protection practices must take into account each child's needs and should promote the healthy development of family relationships.
Effectively engaging fathers in the child protection process is one aspect of the CPS caseworker's responsibilities that helps further progress toward these goals.
1.3 Research on the Role of Fathers
In the last decade, the social sciences have begun recognizing and examining the crucial role that fathers play in child development and family dynamics. Nevertheless, relatively little attention has been paid to the role fathers play in the dynamics of child maltreatment. A 1997 review of research on child abuse and neglect concluded that this research was characterized by a "conspicuous absence of information from and about fathers in violent families."3
The research that does exist on the link between fathers and maltreatment suggests that:
- Fathers are directly involved in 36.8 percent (acting alone in 18.8 percent and with others in 18.0 percent of the cases) of maltreatment cases;
- The presence of fathers in the home is tied to lower rates of maltreatment;
- Unrelated male figures and stepfathers in households tend to be more abusive than biological, married fathers;
- The quality of the relationship between the mother and father has an important indirect effect on the odds of maltreatment.4
Not much is known, however, about the specific role that fathers play in preventing, causing, or contributing to child maltreatment. In addition, relatively little energy has been invested in training CPS caseworkers to work with fathers in cases of maltreatment. A number of studies indicate that caseworkers may overlook fathers in connection with their investigations and interventions regarding child maltreatment.5 This is not surprising since working with fathers in social services is relatively new—the first national meeting dedicated solely to issues concerning fathers did not occur until 1994. In addition, American families today represent a range of fatherhood models, some of which lend themselves to productive involvement with the caseworker and others which may not.
While research and training directly related to fathers and child maltreatment have been limited, there have been significant efforts over recent years devoted to research on the role of fathers in child development and the creation of programs to strengthen the capacity of fathers. This manual highlights both the findings from the available research and examples of fatherhood programs. By equipping CPS caseworkers with a solid introduction to the fatherhood research, the manual should foster a sense of empathy and knowledge that will enable them to work effectively with fathers. Further, the exploration of each stage of the child protection process—from investigation to case closure—will help caseworkers work with fathers in a way that increases the likelihood of achieving the ultimate goal: safety and permanency for the child.
1. National Child Welfare Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice. (2002, Summer). Father involvement in child welfare: Estrangement and reconciliation. Back
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF). (2005). Child maltreatment 2003 [On-line]. Available: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/resource/child-maltreatment-2003. Back
3. Sternberg, K. J. (1997). Fathers, the missing parents in research on family violence. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of fathers in child development (3rd ed., pp. 284-308, 392-397). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. Back
4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (ACYF). (2005); Horn, W., & Sylvester, T. (2002). Father facts. Gaithersburg, MD: National Fatherhood Initiative; Goldman, J., & Salus, M. K. (2003). A coordinated response to child abuse and neglect: The foundation for practice[On-line]. Available: http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/foundation/foundation.pdf. Back
5. Hornsby, D. (2002, Summer). Engaging fathers in child welfare cases: A case manager's perspective [On-line]. Available: http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp/downloads/newsletter/BPNPSummer02.pdf O'Donnell, J. M. (1999). Casework practice with fathers of children in kinship foster care. In J. Gleason & C. F. Hairston (Eds.), Kinship care: Improving practice through research (pp. 167-188). Washington, DC: Child Welfare League; O'Hagan, K. (1997). The problem of engaging men in child protection work. British Journal of Social Work, 27(1), 25-42. Back
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