As a worker, how many of the following do you put into regular
practice? The following are a summary of useful strategies for engaging
non-resident fathers when child protection/domestic violence issues
“Recognize and acknowledge the previous experiences the father
may have had with child welfare. The worker should be cautious about
trying to correct his assessment or explain his experience away. Seek to
use his experience as a pivotal point to impact the course of his
Be clear and transparent about the reasons for the agency’s
involvement and the father’s role throughout the process. Suspicion may
be present and he may think he is only being sought for child support.
Seek and support open feedback to ensure active, two-way communication
and understanding between the worker and the father.
Start from the assumption that the father wants to be involved,
and assist the father in developing a plan to make that happen. Too
often, we don't start from the 'Outcomes improve when youth and their
parents are active participants in their own planning and service
provision. We assume that the father doesn’t want to be involved and
will be difficult to engage because traditional culture states that men
are the providers and disconnected from their children, and women are
the caretakers and nurturers of their children. Many of us may have been
unconsciously socialized in adhering to these stereotypes, thus making
the assumption that the father doesn’t want to be involved. Changing
this initial viewpoint can be a useful first step in your engagement.
Facilitate the restoration of the father in the life of the
child by co-creating goals based on his strengths, not his deficits. The
traditional culture of manhood encourages admiring men for their
physical strength, occupational status, economic gains and competitive
spirit. If the father you are speaking with falls short in some way
based upon what he and/or the social worker believes, it can present a
barrier to successfully identifying his strengths. Remove those
traditional cultural ideals and build in opportunities for success in
the case planning by developing short-term goals that are achievable and
that foster a feeling of accomplishment.
Work on a case-by-case basis. Let each father speak for himself.
The father may make the assumption that the social worker is assessing
him through the lens of “dead beat,” “absent,” “no good” (to use that
nomenclature) father. He may present as defensive because of this.
Therefore, it is important to ensure that he is aware that you see him
for who he is.
Suspend judgments until you personally meet the father. You will
hear negative things about the father, likely even before you have met
him. There are two sides to every story, and the child is depending upon
you to hear and evaluate both sides.
Make room for expressions of anger. Anger is one of the few
acceptable emotions for men and may be the only one they are comfortable
expressing. There is a difference between expressions of anger, which
are quite natural and threatening behaviour. We will discuss more about
this in a little bit.
Acknowledge the worker’s power, but remind the father of his own
power to use his assets to keep his child safe. This can best be
accomplished by remaining engaged and involved. Remember that men often
struggle with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness so if they can
“do” something to make a difference this may help them recognize their
own power in the situation.
Help the non-resident father identify his assets. Use family and
friends and other men who know the father to identify his strengths and
how those strengths might be used to stay involved and relevant in the
life of his child.
Remind the father of how important he is in the life of the
child, how there are some things only he can provide and that his child
will carry what he does with him or her forever.
If he has been the person who has caused harm or been neglectful
in some manner, encourage the opportunity to change. Let him know that
he is not the sum of his mistakes and he has an opportunity to do
something different at any point in his life; however, his children need
Ask the father how he wants his children to remember him 10-15
years from now. Even men who have been toxic to their families have
positive visions about what they would like to mean to their children.
It’s a good “doorway” for non-defensive self-reflection. You can ask:
“How would you like your children to remember you?” If he describes a
positive vision of how he would like his children to remember him, the
worker can ask: “What can you do to make that happen?” and “How can I
help you with that?”
Remind the father that he is a role model to his child. Boys
learn about manhood from their fathers, and girls get a sense of what to
expect from men from their fathers.
Clearly and directly explain the expectations of the agency.
Acknowledge that some of the expectations may seem unfair and
unreasonable. Ask for any suggestions he may have to make it easier to
meet those expectations, but do not promise any help that cannot be
Talk directly about the word 'violence' if this is relevant. Be
transparent about the impact that that the violence has, particularly on