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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|
7. Services for Fathers
As with the entire family, the services that the caseworker identifies for the father must correspond to the level of risk the child is currently facing as determined by the caseworker. The National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators (NAPCWA) has developed a conceptual framework that is very helpful in thinking about levels of risk and the corresponding strategy for service provision. See below Exhibit 7-1, Child Protection Service Pyramid.
The services discussed here primarily relate to the bottom two sections of this pyramid. Though it should be noted again that, if child removal is the selected course of action and there is a nonresidential father, he or his family should be considered as placement options where appropriate.
Whether provided directly by the caseworker, other professionals at the child protective services (CPS) agency, or an outside service provider, all of the service choices should be selected because they relate to the ultimate goal of safety and permanency. A father can contribute to this goal by understanding how he can help improve the family dynamics and his relationship with his child. The following sections discuss ways that CPS caseworkers can help fathers be better fathers and also connect men to needed services.
Helping Fathers Be Better Fathers
There are five steps that fathers, especially those who feel tempted to lash out at their children, can take to minimize their propensity to maltreat. The caseworker can explain these five steps to a father and, if deemed appropriate, refer him to an outside professional who can delve further into these issues.
First, fathers need to take an active role in nurturing their children. Many fathers mistakenly see this as mother's work. It is a valuable way men teach their children that they are loved and respected, and it helps ensure that children, especially boys, do not feel the necessity to act out to get their father's attention. Helping a toddler brush her teeth, reading a son a nightly story (even a father with limited reading ability can still enjoy books with his child—together, they can look at the pictures and make up a story), and bottle-feeding a hungry infant all help foster a healthy, strong tie between father and child.
Second, fathers need to take a careful look at how they discipline their children. As discussed earlier, the caseworker can help a father determine how his own discipline techniques and how he reacts to misbehavior of his children compare to a model of good discipline. The caseworker can help a father understand that discipline is one of, if not the, most difficult tasks of parenting and that no father is the perfect disciplinarian. With the assistance of the caseworker, the father can identify where he is lacking and how he can improve. If necessary, both the father and caseworker may find it valuable to refer the father to an outside professional, either a therapist or a local community fatherhood program.
Third, the caseworker must be on the lookout for a father who finds himself chronically angry, depressed, insecure, powerless, or stressed. Such a father may be at an increased risk of maltreating his children.99 When a caseworker is working with a father who expresses feelings of low self-worth, anger, or depression, she should help the father seek out individual or group counseling that teaches men how to manage their emotions and address any underlying psychological or spiritual issues.100 Working with a therapist, individually, or in a group may help the father acquire the sense of self-worth and self-control needed to refrain from engaging in the abuse of his children.101 When exploring such issues with a father, it may be valuable to explore the father's spirituality and religiosity as well. For some fathers, the best referral may be to a member of the clergy.
Fourth, fathers need to tend to their marital (or romantic) relationship. As discussed earlier, fathers who treat their wives with consideration, affection, and respect are much less likely to abuse or neglect their children, and their wives are less likely to abuse or neglect their children. Caseworkers need to understand the quality of the relationship between a married mother and father or between the cohabitating couple. If issues exist, and anger or resentment festers between the two, the caseworker needs to help connect them to services in the community that can help strengthen the marriage. Until recently, marital counseling and other related support services were primarily a middle- and upper-class phenomenon—it is more accepted in these communities, and services were more readily available. This still is true, but it is changing. More and more organizations, often but not always led by religious leaders, are offering services to strengthen marriages in low-income communities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has created a website to provide information on healthy marriage at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/healthymarriage.
If it becomes clear that the father is abusing the mother or is at risk of doing so, then the caseworker will need to reach out to a local domestic violence offender program. Several emerging programs have been designed specifically for training adult assailants how to parent without resorting to violence. These programs include information and activities on:
- A father's role in the family;
- Defining violence in parenting;
- Using discipline versus inappropriate punishment;
- Nonviolent means for changing children's behaviors;
- Information on child development;
- The effects of child exposure to domestic violence;
- How to use logical and natural consequences;
- Communication skills, assertiveness, and expressing feelings appropriately.102
Where domestic violence is present, the local domestic violence offender program can be a valuable partner for the child protective services caseworker.
Finally, fathers should teach their children to develop respect for their own bodies. Fathers should teach children to seek out privacy as they dress, bathe, and use the toilet. Fathers and mothers should show affection to each other in front of their children, though they should take reasonable measures to ensure that their sexual relationship is private.
|Appendix E, Tips for Dads, provides a series of concrete tips that CPS caseworkers can provide to fathers, whatever their circumstances.|
Resources and Referrals
The previous discussion cited numerous possible referral sources: marital counseling, family therapists, clergy, and domestic violence offender programs, to name a few. Another source is parent education and parent support programs. Numerous organizations operate these types of groups that are designed to allow parents to learn effective parenting techniques and to provide mutual support to each other. Two national organizations that run such programs are Parents Anonymous (www.parentsanonymous.org) and Prevent Child Abuse America (www.preventchildabuse.org). Parent education and parent support groups can be valuable tools for fathers.
Before referring a father to a local group it is important to ensure that it is not only open to, but clearly welcoming of fathers. The caseworker should find out if the group has fathers currently involved. If not, find out how the group would welcome fathers. Where, for example, does the group meet, and is the setting clearly welcoming to fathers? Even the physical setting can be welcoming or unwelcoming to fathers. If the meeting place has posters of mothers, but no fathers, or pictures and posters that are clearly feminine in nature, but nothing that resonates with men, or the waiting area has women's magazines, but nothing of interest to men, then fathers will not feel welcome. If a father does not feel welcome or that the place is "for" him, then he will not be back. And referring a father to a group that immediately makes him feel uncomfortable will not only be a waste of his time, but leave him questioning the judgment of the caseworker. If the caseworker concludes that none of the local groups are a good fit for fathers, the CPS agency may wish to start their own group for fathers or to work with an outside professional to start one.
It is extremely important that the caseworker maintains contact with any professional or organization to which the father is referred. At the time of referral, the caseworker needs to brief the service provider fully on the case, the reason for the referral, and the goals and objectives for the father. The caseworker must keep in regular contact with the professional to ensure that needed services are, in fact, being provided and that progress is being made. The caseworker is the manager of the case. Services provided by other professionals are supportive of the ultimate goal: safety and permanency for the child. The caseworker needs to know how all the services being provided to the family come together to help achieve that goal. In addition, when the court is involved, it is appropriate to obtain information from the parent's attorney, the child's attorney, and the court-appointed special advocate (CASA) or the Guardian ad Litem (GAL).
|For more information, visit the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center at http://www.healthymarriageinfo.org.|
Child Protective Services: A Guide for Caseworkers describes the relationship between the caseworker and other professionals, including necessary follow-up, in this way:
Intervention and service provision are typically a collaborative effort between CPS and other agencies or individual providers. Consequently, the evaluation of family progress must also be a collaborative venture. Referrals to service providers should clearly specify the number, frequency, and methods of reports expected. The caseworker must also clearly communicate expectations for reporting concerns, observable changes, and family progress. It is the caseworker's responsibility to ensure the submission of these reports and to request meetings with service providers, if indicated.103
|For more on what caseworkers should look for in referring fathers to father-friendly resources or on how to make the CPS agency itself more father-friendly, see Exhibit 8-2, The ABCs of a Father-friendly Environment.|
There are four types of case closure:
- Termination, if all of the outcomes have been achieved or if the family feels unready or unwilling to work toward those outcomes, and there is sufficient reason to believe that the child is safe;
- Referral, if the family is able or willing to continue working with other service providers toward objectives yet to be accomplished;
- Transfer, if the caseworker's role in the case is ending, but the family will work with another caseworker in the agency;
- Discontinuation by the family, if the family is receiving services voluntarily and unilaterally decides to end services.104
In each of these types of closure, the caseworker meets with the family, if at all possible, to discuss next steps, progress made toward identified outcomes, and any questions and concerns the family may have. Of course, the fathers who have been involved in the process are involved in case closure.
If the caseworker has been successful in engaging the father in the CPS process, it will be important to review the following with the father at this stage:
- His current view of the family and the factors that led to the maltreatment;
- Steps he has taken to strengthen his role as a father;
- Ways he can continually evaluate his role in the family and self-correct as necessary;
- Resources available to him in the community;
- Referrals made or being made;
- Questions the father may have.
Every father will leave the process with a different objective, and every type of father will lend himself to different types of short- and long-term goals. Married fathers may need to work on their relationship with their wives. Cohabitating fathers may commit to exploring marriage. A nonresidential father will need to determine how to negotiate the proper role in his child's life and the family now headed by the mother of his child. He has both to understand and to be respectful of the boundaries of the family unit formed by his children, the mother of his children, and any other adults in the household. Stepfathers may find a parenting group specifically tailored to them as they wrestle with the challenge of filling the role of father. Case closure for incarcerated fathers could include a referral to a program in the correctional institution dedicated to preparing men to return to their families.
Regardless of the situation, fathers who have been involved in the process will have strong feelings about the closure of the case, ranging from relief to satisfaction to fear to anger to powerlessness. The feelings the father may experience may be intense, but they may not be expressed. The caseworker should keep an eye out for verbal and non-verbal cues as to the father's reaction to case closure, seeking to help the father recognize the progress that has been made, the work still to be done, and how the father can take control and continue to make progress.
Fathers have a crucial role to play in the CPS process, whether the father is the perpetrator, a non-offending adult in the household, or a nonresidential father. Traditionally, fathers have not been adequately brought into this process, unfortunately ensuring that the caseworker is missing both an important dynamic in the child's life and a possible resource in creating safety and permanency for the child. A caseworker who has a good working knowledge of why fathers are important to their children's development, what makes for good fathering, and how to work with fathers, is equipped to make important progress with the family. While the caseworker's primary concern is, of course, the child victim of maltreatment, a caseworker can become an important support for the father, even an advocate for the father as he accesses outside services. For many men, this will be a new experience and an invaluable one.
98 National Association of Public Child Welfare
Administrators. (1999). Guidelines for a model system of
protective services for abused and neglected children and
their families. Washington, DC: Author. Reprinted with
99 Buchanan, A. (1996); Stosny, S. (1995). Treating attachment abuse: A compassionate approach. New York, NY: Springer. back
100 Stosny, S. (1995); Gottman, J. M. (1998). back
101 Buchanan, A. (1996); Goldman, J., & Salus, M. K. (2003). back
102 Edleson, J. L., Mbilinyi, L. F., & Shetty, S. (2001). Parenting in the aftermath of domestic violence. Paper prepared for the Administrative Office of the Court, Center for Family, Children, and the Courts, Judicial Council of California; Sullivan, C. M., Juras, J., Bybee, D., Nguyen, H., & Allen, N. (2000). How children's adjustment is affected by their relationships to their mothers' abusers. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 15(6), 587-602. back
103 DePanfilis, D., & Salus, M. K. (2003). back
104 DePanfilis, D., & Salus, M. K. (2003). back
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