Child welfare fathers as resources and risks in their children's lives
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 03:15 authored by Lee Zanoni
Fathers and father figures tend to be overlooked in child welfare practice. There are multiple reasons for this, including common assumptions amongst practitioners that fathers are irrelevant in their children’s lives, or that all fathers in child welfare families are substance-abusing and violent. However, overlooking fathers can have serious consequences for vulnerable children. Not engaging abusive fathers can place children at increased risk of harm. In addition, excluding non-abusive and committed fathers can be deleterious for children as it can deprive them of the many benefits of having a loving parent involved in their life. Despite the significant ramifications to children of poor father engagement, there is a dearth of research on child welfare fathers to guide father-inclusive practice. There is a particular paucity of research exploring fathers as resources and assets for their children. The aim of the present research was to fill the gap in understanding about fathers as both resources for and risks to their children by examining the profiles and life stories of a group of 35 fathers associated with a fathers’ parenting intervention program in Australia. All but one participant completed demographic, family, psychological and child maltreatment risk measures. In addition, some participants provided qualitative data regarding their childhoods, experiences of intimate partner violence (IPV) and efforts to protect their children. The present research found that, contrary to negative stereotypes, some child welfare fathers have ceased abusing substances, are very committed to and involved in the lives of their children, and do their best to protect their children. It also found that some fathers have similar histories of childhood abuse and IPV victimization as some mothers in child welfare families. With regard to fathers as risks to their children, the present research found that the parental risk factors most strongly and consistently associated with fathers’ risk of child maltreatment were current psychological factors. More positive self-perceptions and lower levels of depression and anxiety were associated with decreased risk of child maltreatment. The key practical implication of this research is that child welfare practice needs to adopt fully inclusive, impartial, and strengths-based approaches to father engagement, for the benefit of at-risk children.