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Gender bias in child protection

Partnering with fathers and valuing them as an equal parent with the mother helps reduce the gender bias in child protection.

Within the care arrangements context, there are many ways fathers can be included more in decision-making processes and information gathering, such as in finding out the children’s routine, medical history, immunisation record, consent for procedures, Medicare card details, favourite foods, favourite books and much more.

It is important to engage fathers in decision-making processes and information gathering, as research demonstrates they are much less likely to engage with Child Safety than mothers.

The reasons for the lower rate of engagement include the ‘traditional ideal of mothers as the primary carers of children and fathers as breadwinners’. (Berlyn et al, as cited in Tehan and McDonald, 2010)

Involved fathering—where men participate more directly and equitably in child rearing, rather than at arm's-length or through their financial contributions—has emerged as a new social ideal. (Lamb, as cited in Tehan and McDonald, 2010)

As practitioners we can continue to support and encourage fathers to be active in their parenting and not sideline them when engaging with families.

Practice prompt

When considering the gender bias in parenting, how could your engagement with fathers improve/change?

How may this change contribute to the child’s care arrangements and decision-making processes?

The literature reflects that fathers make a positive contribution to the development of their children and overall family functioning (Tehan and McDonald, 2010). Fathers who are actively involved can support their children to achieve positive outcomes socially, behaviourally and educationally (Lamb & Tamis-leMonda cited in Tehan and McDonald, 2010).

When children are in safe and supportive care arrangements, and retain positive, healthy relationships with their father, they will reach better outcomes and help break cycles of abuse. Child Safety plays an important role in supporting fathers to engage positively with their children and families as part of ongoing intervention.

Practitioners may find it challenging to engage fathers as fathers may:

  • not attend meetings, family contact visits and safety and support network meetings
  • not actively participate in programs, meetings, family contact visits and safety and support network meetings
  • appear reluctant to develop a bond with a service or a practitioner (Tehan and McDonald, 2010)

Similarly, fathers may find it difficult to engage with practitioners because:

  • they don't know how a practitioner can help
  • their working hours present a problem when seeking to access services
  • Child Safety is often seen as primarily supporting women and their children and, as a result, men can be reluctant to seek help or work with practitioners
  • perceptions that men are not natural nurturers (Tehan and McDonald, 2010)

Practice prompt

Reflect on your time as a practitioner and consider how many fathers you have engaged with and treated the same as you treated the mother of the children.

How can you help increase the engagement of fathers in their children’s care arrangements and decision-making processes?

Working with fathers

When working towards reducing the gender bias in child protection, Tehan and McDonald (2010) highlight some important points about what may contribute to men’s/fathers’ engagement in child protection:

  • Most communities have spaces where men gather. These spaces provide opportunities for promoting programs and avenues for support aimed specifically at fathers.
  • Men may be uncomfortable with services and practitioners that emphasise the provision of ‘support’, because it suggests they are not coping.
  • Men are more likely to attend a child and family service if their partners encourage them to do so. Similarly, if a partner discourages involvement, a man may be less willing to engage with a service.
  • Services that operate only during business hours are most accessible to people who are home during the day. Flexible hours of operation significantly impact on the accessibility of a service to fathers who work. If fathers are not home during the day, making times around the father’s schedule is important and sends a message to the father about their importance as a parent. This is also an important consideration for connecting with male carers who work during the day.
  • Having positive images of men and fathers in posters and brochures around the workplace shows our service welcomes fathers and recognises their importance.
  • Men can respond positively to activities that provide hands-on learning opportunities rather than seminars and presentations.
  • Having programs specifically for men may increase the likelihood of men attending a service.
  • Some men (as well as women) may feel uncomfortable discussing personal issues openly in a service environment. Strategies to reduce this discomfort include:
    • for workers to speak about their own experience
    • interacting side by side rather than face to face
    • discussing issues while they are engaged in an activity.

Research demonstrates that a strengths-based approach with parents increases the effectiveness of a program and improves parental engagement. This aligns with the Strengthening families Protecting children Framework for Practice and strengthens our approach to reducing the gender bias in child protection.

The following observations show how a strengths-based approach in your practice can help reduce gender bias and engage fathers in their child’s care arrangement:

  • A strengths-based approach to fathers and fathering is characterised by a focus on fathers' capacities and the value of fathering. In practice this can be:
    • sharing information with fathers about how they already contribute and how they can further contribute to the wellbeing of their children
    • seeking information from the father about the child’s routine, favourite foods, medical information etc
    • resisting taking an ‘expert’ approach.
  • A strengths-based approach to fathers and fathering is especially important because:
    • fathers' competence in dealing with the emotional aspects of parenting small children can be underestimated within their own families and in the general community
    • due to stereotypical views of men's abilities (as compared to women's) men may not realise their capacity to contribute positively to their children's health and development.
  • Improving engagement with men requires partnering that is based on notions of equality, highlights their existing strengths and is non-judgmental.

Practice prompt

Reflecting on this, what can you do to improve your partnering with the fathers of children in care arrangements?

How can fathers influence and support the care arrangements of their children?

Version history

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Published on:

Last reviewed:

  • Date: 
    Moving Working with fathers to this section
  • Date: 
    Terminology change - placement to care arrangement