Engaging non-resident fathers and child protection issues


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 exist:

  1. “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 child’s life.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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 him now.

  12. 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?”

  13. 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.

  14. 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 delivered.

  15. Talk directly about the word 'violence' if this is relevant. Be transparent about the impact that that the violence has, particularly on the children”. 

Adapted from Iowa Department of Human Services Blue Sheet - Practical Application of Iowa’s Blueprint for Permanency.

Click here to view a copy of the article.


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