Recruiting and Engaging Men as Fathers in Social Work Practice

Recruiting and Engaging Men as Fathers in Social Work Practice

Joseph Fleming (Deakin University, Australia), Andrew King (Groupwork Solutions, Australia) and Tara Hunt (Groupwork Solutions, Australia)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6563-7.ch012
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Evidence in the research literature suggests that men are usually not engaged by social workers, particularly in child welfare and child protection settings. Mothers also tend to become the focus of intervention, even when there is growing evidence that men can take an active and important role in a child's development in addition to providing support to the mother and family. Whilst there have been some promising developments in including men in social work practice internationally, there remains a gap in the research regarding the engagement of men as fathers in Australia. Given the growing relevance of the topic of fathers, the purpose of this chapter is to add to the current knowledge base, to support social work students and practitioners to engage with men in their role as fathers, and to offer an evidence-based practice model that may assist social workers in their work with men as fathers.
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Parents today live in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender relationships, within extended and reconstituted families, or are single parent families. This chapter is written as a suggested guide for social workers which focuses on engaging fathers in community services, health contexts, and programmes, who would otherwise be less involved for a variety of social and cultural reasons. Ideas about men and families have historically been constructed and shaped in society by sexual divisions in law and gendered assumptions (Collier, 2009). The concept of “father” is now more complex than it was and, as Scourfield and Drakeford (2002) have suggested, ideas about men and masculinity are positioned in different ways and are often not complimentary. As a result, some of this information is relevant to non-biological fathers, mothers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender couples. However, these groups may require specific information not presented in this chapter (Power et al., 2012). In the case of gay and lesbian parents, there is a dearth of research in engagement and practice which is an area requiring attention in its own right. However, many of the tools used in this chapter are applicable to working with fathers in gay relationships or are very similar to those tools used when working with women from marginalised communities. The authors take the position that every person has the capacity to be an excellent and effective parent and that fathers, in particular, need to be given the opportunity to be involved in their children’s lives. In fact, the growing diversity of life course and residency patterns for men and children has fostered a new awareness of the roles of both mother and father in contemporary society (Marsiglio, Day, & Lamb, 2000).

As authors of this chapter, we agree and acknowledge that gender is of central importance in understanding family dynamics and the occupational culture within the social work profession. We also acknowledge that gender construction in practice and education can be problematic. However, to understand the interplay between masculinity, social work, and women’s subordination (Parker & Ashencaen Crabtree, 2014) is a discussion that simply lies beyond the scope of this chapter.

In contemporary society, a father can be both biological and social and described as the significant male role model in a child’s life. Men, who are a significant role model in a child’s life, can serve as fathers in different kinds of relationships. For example, they may be fathering in intact relationships, separated, or single, and while many men are biological fathers they may also be grandfathers, step-fathers, uncles, another member of the family, or even unrelated, but still act in the role of a caregiver or parental figure.

Over many generations, most cultures have developed with traditional role expectations for men to be “hunters and gatherers” and women to be “nurturers and carers” who support families. In the past, both parents had concrete expectations of the role they played in the family, their relationship, and the broader community. Contemporary society, by contrast, has seen a greater sharing of employment roles across both genders. Today, both men and women can earn comparatively equal wages and women are fulfilling the same paid roles as men across many employment sectors (Baxter & Smart, 2011). Also, the changing employment landscape has seen a decline in the “manual labour” or “blue collar” contexts of employment that has levelled the employment playing field, with more men and women competing for employment with greater equity. This is especially common in regional communities, emerging business sectors, and the service sector. Often without training related to working with diversity, social workers, as is so with other professionals, have to re-evaluate their approach to dominant gender-based roles within the family unit.

Fathers’ roles have changed dramatically in recent decades. Not only are more fathers present at the birth of their children than in previous generations, many of them are trying to be more active and engaged fathers in a variety of ways. Many families have navigated this change at a pragmatic level without much discussion and role reflection.

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