Counting fathers in – how can social workers build better relationships with fathers involved in child protection services?

February 15, 2019

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This workshop was presented by Dr Georgia Philip from the Centre for Research on Children and Families (CRCF), based at the University of East Anglia (UEA).  Georgia explained she is a sociologist by training and her research has focused on fathers, fatherhood and father engagement. In particular she has worked on two major research projects, on fathers’ experiences of child protection, and of recurrent care proceedings. She flagged up two Nuffield Foundation funded research projects and reports relevant to today’s workshop:


Research Briefing - Counting Fathers In: Understanding men’s experiences of the child protection system by CRCF at UEA


‘Up Against It’; understanding fathers’ experiences of recurrent care proceedings. by UEA and Lancaster University


















Georgia welcomed a diverse audience from a range of backgrounds (statutory, third sector and campaign groups) and asked for differing views and experiences to be listened to and respected, which set the scene for a stimulating workshop and lively discussion.


Group activity 1: Why is the engagement and inclusion of fathers in social work so challenging?


Georgia asked participants to work in groups to think about this issue from either a social worker’s or a father’s perspective. In particular, why is the engagement of fathers still seen as an issue in social work? What are the barriers to relationship building with men?


The following challenges were identified:

  • Fathers might be used to having power in the family, while many social workers are women.

  • It’s more difficult for social workers to access the father if he is not living at the home address.

  • Social workers don’t always know who the father is but always know who the mother is.

  • Resources for families and support networks are often female focused – mother and baby groups, playgroups, women’s aid, welfare support etc.

  • Entrenched views on gender and care – some Fathers think it’s not their business or that they are not accountable.  Accountability is often a key issue.

  • Domestic violence is a contentious issue and very often gendered.

  • Some Fathers might feel the system is stacked against them and perceive that it’s all about the mother. This is even more difficult when it gets into the court system.


A dynamic model of father engagement


Georgia introduced a model to demonstrate that the level and success of a father’s engagement depends three aspects:

  1. the timing of the initial contact by the social worker

  2. the ‘tolerance’ and flexibility of the father (ability to control emotions and manage expectations)

  3. the ongoing communication between the social worker and father. 



At times, the physical and mental barriers of engaging a father means that contact is sometimes left until just before court proceedings, which then doesn’t give the father a chance to realistically put things in place to be the carer of his child.


"When social worker and father engagement works well, it can lead to mutual recognition and active involvement by the father, with more positive outcomes."