In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Fathering Among Families Served By Child Welfare

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Intimate-Partner Violence

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Social Work Fathering Among Families Served By Child Welfare
Jennifer Bellamy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0138


Fathering among families served by child welfare is a relatively underdeveloped but growing area of focus in social work and allied fields. The role of fathers in the achievement of key child welfare goals—including child safety, permanency, and well-being—has been increasingly acknowledged both in research and practice communities. Like mothers, fathers confer both risks and resources on their children, directly and indirectly, through a complex interplay of behaviors and relationships. Historically, child welfare research has focused on the mother-child dyad and has often narrowly acknowledged fathers as perpetrators of sexual and physical maltreatment. Indeed, males have been linked to some of the most severe forms of physical abuse and are overrepresented as perpetrators of sexual abuse. However, more-current works have opened the lens of focus on fathers to include a variety of family and parent-child relationships, to explore the potential for fathers to serve as resources for children and families and to address the unique service needs of men in families. Providers in the child welfare system and related services have begun to explore the engagement of fathers in child welfare services, but few empirical studies have examined the efficacy of these efforts.

General Overviews

Many recurring themes emerge in general overviews of the literature related to fathering among families served by child welfare. Scholars who describe the theoretical and empirical work in this area lament the lack of studies specific to fathers, including the tendency to ignore fathers or to paint them strictly in a negative light. Brown, et al. 2009; Herring 2009; and Risley-Curtiss, et al. 2003 provide critical theoretical analyses of the limitations and gaps in research, policy, and practice. Whereas Leslie Brown and Christina Risley-Curtiss illustrate the persistent gender biases of the child welfare service system, David Herring recommends a theoretical lens through which to extend the work dedicated to fathers. Dubowitz 2006 and Lamb 2001 offer brief introductions to scholarship on fathers’ role in child maltreatment. Featherstone 2001 surveys the literature from a more practice-oriented perspective. Marshall, et al. 2001 is unique for its focus on child well-being specific to fathers and child welfare. See Bellamy 2009, cited under Father Figures, Stepfathers, and Father Surrogates, for a demographic snapshot of fathers and other males in families who have been reported to child welfare in the United States.

  • Brown, Leslie, Marilyn Callahan, Susan Strega, Christopher Walmsley, and Lena Dominelli. 2009. Manufacturing ghost fathers: The paradox of father presence and absence in child welfare. Child & Family Social Work 14.1: 25–34.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2206.2008.00578.x

    A conceptual piece that addresses the “invisibility” or exclusion of fathers in child welfare policy, practice, and scholarship. Offers a critical examination of the discourse related to gender and other key biases that serve to marginalize fathers.

  • Dubowitz, Howard. 2006. Where’s dad? A need to understand father’s role in child maltreatment. Child Abuse & Neglect 30.5: 461–465.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2006.04.002

    Invited commentary in the 2006 special issue on fathers in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect. Provides a brief overview of the persistent gaps and emerging trends in the literature on fathers and child maltreatment.

  • Featherstone, Brid. 2001. Putting fathers on the child welfare agenda. Child & Family Social Work 6.2: 179–186.

    DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2206.2001.00195.x

    A research review with a particular focus on the United Kingdom. Highlights modern research on the relationship between fathers and child development, domestic violence, and other issues that pertain to childcare professionals, including some key debates and areas of focus in the field.

  • Herring, David J. 2009. Fathers and child maltreatment: A research agenda based on evolutionary theory and behavioral biology research. Children and Youth Services Review 31.8: 935–945.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2009.04.007

    An examination of different types of father-child relationships and the relative risk of maltreatment they confer on children. The construct of parental investment is used as a frame for understanding relative risk and as a potential guide for risk assessment and child placement decisions.

  • Lamb, Michael E. 2001. Male roles in families “at risk”: The ecology of child maltreatment. Child Maltreatment 6.4: 310–313.

    DOI: 10.1177/1077559501006004004

    Invited commentary on a special-focus section of the journal Child Maltreatment on findings from the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) on fathers and child maltreatment. Overviews the historical progress and limitations of research from a focus on presence and absence of fathers to complex family relationships.

  • Marshall, David B., Diana J. English, and Angela J. Stewart. 2001. The effect of fathers or father figures on child behavioral problems in families referred to child protective services. Child Maltreatment 6.4: 290–299.

    DOI: 10.1177/1077559501006004002

    Describes how the relationship between the presence or absence of a father figure in a child’s life and child behavior problems changes over time.

  • Risley-Curtiss, Christina, and Kristin Heffernan. 2003. Gender biases in child welfare. Affilia 18.4: 395–410.

    DOI: 10.1177/0886109903257629

    Review of the literature underlining the persistent tendency to dismiss the effect of the quality of fathering on child well-being and to blame mothers for problems in families. Structures, policies, and practices that contribute to the maintenance of this bias are examined.

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