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November 2015Vol. 16, No. 8Father Involvement in Case Management

A journal article titled "Father Involvement and Child Welfare: The Voices of Men of Color" describes the outcomes of focus groups that examined the role fathers in child welfare-involved families play in their children's lives. The focus groups, comprising 37 fathers in the in the San Francisco Bay Area, were asked to consider the following questions: (1) how are fathers involved with their children? and (2) how do fathers describe their interactions with social workers? 

The article, featured in Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, discusses how variables such as a father's relationship with his child's mother can significantly affect his level of involvement, as can unintentional biases on behalf of social workers and the father's surrounding community. Research cited in the article states the following:

  • In many case-management instances, men's sole family-related responsibility is often seen as financial only, not social or emotional.
  • Mothers often act as gatekeepers between fathers and their children—for example, regarding sharing information about the father's whereabouts or identifying information for paternal relatives.
  • Oftentimes, engagement of fathers and their critical influence in their children's development is overlooked within the realm of child welfare.

Results of the focus groups highlighted two qualitative themes:

  • Environment: Participants felt there was a significant disconnect between their day-to-day life encounters and workers' inability to relate due to cultural backgrounds. For example, participants said that discussions with social workers regarding neighborhood occurrences impacting fathers' physical safety were met with little empathy.
  • Culture: Participants highlighted issues that arose in their interactions with social workers due to prescribed gender roles and socioeconomic status. For example, participants felt that female social workers were unable to relate to the challenges faced by fathers from disenfranchised backgrounds.

Researchers concluded by stating that child welfare workers are bound by ethical responsibility to search for and include fathers in their case planning process whenever possible. Professional training, both on the job and via workshops, can help provide a greater awareness of the importance of father engagement and about the influence of unintentional bias on casework.

"Father Involvement and Child Welfare: The Voices of Men of Color," by Kilolo Brodie, Natasha Paddock, Christa Gilliam, and Jackelin Chavez, Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 11(1), 2014, is available at (478 KB).