Research studies have consistently found a lack of engagement between social workers and fathers in child protection practice, which has often resulted in missed opportunities for fathers to be assessed as either a risk to, or a resource for their children. One reason that fathers are not considered is because mothers are often constructed as the primary carer for children.

Rather than concentrating specifically upon the problem and challenges in this engagement, my PhD study aimed to explore situations where, during child protection procedures in England, non-resident fathers become the full time and primary carer for their children.

Through adopting an Appreciative Inquiry lens, the qualitative study recruited and interviewed thirteen former non-resident fathers and their child’s social worker.  To address the issue of my own positionality within the study as a man, a father and former child protection social workers, as well as creating a research environment where men could share their experiences and feelings, I adopted a narrative approach to the interviews, and where possible co-created timelines with the fathers.  

The study illustrated how given the opportunity, fathers involved in child protection will ‘step up’ and become a resource for their child when the child’s mother is not able to do so. The fathers exercised agency and demonstrated a commitment to the assessment and their child. The social workers also demonstrated a level of reasoning and discretion in considering the negative aspects of the fathers’ lives, where they understand that the fathers were neither good nor bad, but a combination of both, and demonstrated an ability to offer encouragement and challenge in equal measures.  Most importantly, despite a few challenges, the fathers and social workers were able to develop, and sustain a relationship, that led to the fathers being able to provide a home for their children.

However, my study also highlighted potential vulnerabilities in social work practice. As a social worker, researching social work practice, I was not always in full agreement with the examples of professional judgement and practice that fathers and social workers in my study discussed in their research interviews.  Therefore, it is hoped that the findings of this study can inform and strengthen child protection practice in the future.

You can access and read the full PhD thesis here

About the author

Dr Lee Sobo-Allen

Research Associate, CASCADE, Cardiff University

Research Fellow, School of Education, Birmingham University