Part II of our guest post from a professional head of social care.
Parent Alienation: Is it Me?
In part one I talked about the need to make a concerted effort to combat parent alienation, positively targeting marginalised men as an antidote to the growing problem of fatherlessness.
I talked about my belief in shared parenting and the importance of my own father in my life and what an inspiration he has been to me.
In part two, I would like to share some simple but effective tactics we’re employing to make this belief and need a reality.
As a Social Worker, we love an acronym!
So in my training for father engagement, I use: IS IT ME ?
- Invite them
- Share with them
- Include them
- Talk to them
- Meet with them
- Engage them
It is my firm conviction that we should offer fathers no different service than we would the mother – as this is in the child’s best interest. I also believe that if we don’t, we may soon face legal consequences aside from the moral and social ones.
I believe there are already a range of best practices or principles we can and should apply.
Some Principles of good practice with fathers
- Genograms – every case-child, should have a Genogram which cover at least three generations and covers both maternal and paternal families
- No Assessment should be agreed or considered completed unless the biological father has been involved
- Understand family dynamics, culture, ethnicities – social differences
- Recognise the value of fathers to children
- Commit to empowering parents – both of them
- Be aware of own assumptions, prejudices and personal biography that may influence your view of fathers… consider your own experiences
- Be empathic, be respectful
- Be consistent, open and honest
- Be prepared to understand and support difference
- Practitioners must be prepared to involve fathers and paternal family from the outset
- Family Group Conference should be used at the earliest convenience
In some cases, social workers haven’t even bothered to make much effort to identify who fathers are, such has been the focus on the maternal relationship.
How do we (IF) Identify Fathers?
- We must exhaust all options to locate fathers
- Be curious, creative and persistent
- Make time to investigate (even if multiple fathers as any of them could be a risk or a resource and protective)
- Speak to family networks, school, partners, professionals
- Locate a copy of child’s birth certificate
- Police checks / LA checks / DWP checks / tracing agencies if required
- Ensure accurate information is obtained and recorded
- Mothers can ‘gate keep’ the fathers identity (research evidence this occurs in 66% of all cases)
- Do not give up – ask at every meeting and challenge non-compliance
If in any doubt about the additional workload, I have to hold in mind my own experience. My father was the best anyone could have wished for, and of course I know not all fathers are like mine, and not all children have the experience I had. But most parents love their children if given a chance.
In alienation cases, most often perfectly good fathers have been desperately trying to maintain a connection often for a very long time. We need to support them more.
It keeps me awake at night worrying: “what if there are more and more fathers out there who are like mine? What if more and more children could and should have an amazing father in their lives, an amazing role model and someone who loves them unconditionally… what if?”
Surely based on this “what if”, we have to investigate everything fully. Doing nothing is not an option.
The case social worker has to build trusting relationships. Sure, we have to think the unthinkable when working with families. But we must remain opened minded and assess the whole situation. What if the unthinkable is that a good father or co-parent has been deliberately alienated by the other parent’s deliberate actions? We all know it happens.
Surely the alienated parent, not to mention alienating parent need help, for the sake of the children and WHOLE family.
In recent times, I have noticed something of a “sea change” happening in certain quarters and there have certainly been cases where:
- Children have secured permanency with their father as the father has, it turns out, been the protective parent despite calculated attempts to depict otherwise
- With the right support and understanding co-parenting can be successful if both parties do it for the child. Many cases have closed to social care as both parents have managed to put the needs of the children first and their differences aside
- We have seen an increase in father participation in case work
- They attend meetings, they are involved and engage with us in a more meaningful manner
- Assessments have father’s voice within them
- We have taken a new attitude to feedback, we have learnt from experiences, we collate feedback from families and use complaints to inform our practice further, so we can replicate what works and adapt.
There is still a long way to go. But social workers can and must do this differently and some are doing it differently; we just need to continue on this road of change and inclusion but perhaps change gears.
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