May 13, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
In Ireland, worries have cropped up about just how open are social workers to fathers when mothers are suspected of abusing or neglecting their kids. In the U.S., we’re aware of the antipathy with which CPS caseworkers often treat fathers. In 2006, the Urban Institute published a study demonstrating that, in over half the cases in which a child had been taken from its mother, CPS failed to even attempt to contact the father as a possible placement for the child.
But the U.S. isn’t the only country in which child welfare agencies shove fathers to the side in favor of foster parents when mothers are thought or found to be unfit. Back in 2012, Circle, a charity in Scotland investigated fathers’ treatment by that country’s child welfare agency and the results were shocking. I wrote pieces about those findings here, here and here.
This article is much more cautious about its revelations, but those who know the background of child welfare authorities and the people who work there can read between the lines (Irish Times, 2/22/16).
The gender imbalance among child protection social workers has led to an unwitting bias against fathers, according to a leading academic in the field.
Dr Helen Buckley, associate professor at the school of social work and social policy, TCD, said child protection work is “extremely gendered” and “fathers are often not engaged with”.
Female social workers are less fearful of mothers, find it easier to speak to them and mothers are more available, she said. Fathers may be absent, but still involved in the child’s life, and the importance of that role isn’t always recognised.
“Men wouldn’t discriminate to the same degree because they would identify with their role in the family,” Dr Buckley said. “If you had more men you might restore those balances a bit more because you would have greater awareness of gender equality.”
Hmm. I find it odd that Buckley seems to believe that only men are capable of awareness of the need for gender equality. But apart from that, she highlights an important problem. A whopping 85% of Irish social workers are women and that tends to mean they don’t “engage with” fathers. Now, Buckley may be soft-peddling the reason for that. She claims it’s because female social workers are too afraid of men to talk to them. I’d say that if that’s the case, they need to find another job. After all, fathers are part of families and they’re important to children, so any social worker who can’t talk to them can’t do her job properly.
Donal O’Malley, chairman of the Irish Association of Social Workers, said if social workers are biased against fathers, it is not because of gender, but because mothers end up being the primary care-givers and the fathers often are far more difficult to engage with. They might be in prison, are more likely to be drug users, or have significant alcohol problems.
“I don’t know if men being in that situation would be any more sympathetic towards the fathers,” he said.
Mr O’Malley conceded that it can take more men in an organisation to champion the needs of men and “remind people not to forget about the fathers”.
Why might men be no more sympathetic toward other men than are women? Maybe if you’re a social worker, you’ve been trained a particular way regardless of your sex. Maybe schools of social work present a negative view of fathers. Could such a thing be?
Well, Scotland and Ireland are two different countries, but I can’t help but wonder if the approaches taken by child welfare authorities to involving fathers in children’s lives are all that different. Whatever the case, when Circle took the unprecedented step of actually asking fathers about their experiences with those agencies, the results were damning.
In the 1980s when high unemployment blighted large parts of the UK, the breadwinner role was lost to many men, and largely negative stereotypes about their role in society generally, and in childrearing in particular, began to take root. These stereotypes have both influenced psychologies of men as well as professional responses to, and expectations of, men…
In the same year that Dad’s the Word was published, Christie (2001) noted how fathers were systematically excluded from the child protection system…
At a policy level the Gender Equality Duty [GED] came into force in the UK in April 2007. This requires that public authorities and publicly-funded services promote gender equality and tackle sex discrimination. This ought to mean that they take steps to address the needs of both mothers and fathers to parent their children. It is questionable whether the full implications of the GED have yet been understood by public authorities…
Social work, however, has remained largely impervious to the growing awareness of the importance of fathers in children’s lives…
More significantly perhaps, social work has been influenced by feminist theory, or at least by second wave feminism (Orme, 2003, Scourfield and Coffey, 2002)…
The survival of patriarchy as an organising construct is especially strong in social work (Scourfield and Coffey, 2002). In the UK, the education and training of social workers has contributed to an oversimplification of discussions around gender (Orme, 2003)… In this climate, gender perspectives have struggled to move beyond the grand narrative of patriarchy…
Ethnographic studies of British social workers “identified prevalent professional discourses of masculinity: men as a threat (sexual abuse and/or violence), men as no use (not working but not participating in child care), men as absent (potential clients to social worker but render themselves deliberately invisible), men as no different to women (in the context of long standing family problems where violence is seen as bi-directional), men as better than women (this occurs relative to perceived deficiencies in mothers’ parenting capacity). “Responses to fathers can be one dimensional, epitomizing a rather binary classification of them as ‘bad’ and mothers as ‘good’, or at least better than the father” (Lonne et al. 2008: 86). Fathers are effectively “missing in action”…’
The Circle report went on to detail individual fathers’ experiences with social workers in Scotland’s children’s welfare agencies. Here’s how I summarized those findings back in 2012.
For example, fathers reported that, if the mother of their child claimed abuse, she was automatically believed, irrespective of the circumstances or her character. Into the bargain, social workers tend to believe that a child’s separation from its father is a situation of no great significance to either the father or the child. Finally, fathers who don’t go quietly into the non-fatherhood preferred by the social workers, are considered to be acting suspiciously and with some ulterior motive. Trained to believe that fathers don’t care about their children, social workers have difficulty coming to grips with fathers who plainly do.
The belief by social workers that fathers are abusive survived all objective evidence to the contrary. Findings by criminal investigators didn’t matter. Neither did the impossibility of the abuse occurring. One dad was accused by his ex of child abuse when he’d been in a different part of the country from the child at the time. Still, the social worker concluded that, somehow, he must have been at fault.
Clearly, these are not run-of-the mill people. These social workers have been trained to believe certain things about fathers and they’re not about to do otherwise. Therefore, exhortations to hire more men who would be trained the same way aren’t likely to improve the plight of fathers forced to deal with child welfare caseworkers.
Again, what’s true of Scotland may not be true of Ireland, but if I had to put money on it, I’d bet the two are more similar than they are different.
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#sexism, #anti-fatherbias, #Ireland, #Scotland, #childwelfareauthorities