The May 2015 Zero to Three Journal focuses on supporting fathers and mothers as coparents. Although referring to parents of infants in the mental health system, the articles are applicable to parents of children of all ages in all systems. Here’s what I think gets to the heart of the matter as quoted from the first article by James P. McHale and Vicky Phares: “In jurisdictions across the United State, fathers are still often seen as trespassers in work with mothers and infants. Instead of adopting the posture: ‘Where is the child’s father? We cannot begin work without him. Let’s redouble our energies to get him in here, engage with him, help him understand that our efforts on behalf of his baby will not succeed without him,’ infant mental health professionals reflexively accept that he is not their target.” That statement could readily be applied to many other child/family-serving systems, including the child welfare system.
But why? Why, after all these years of an ever-increasing body of knowledge of the importance of fathers, numerous fatherhood initiatives and programs, and federal grants to fund Responsible Fatherhood programs are fathers still viewed as “trespassers?” McHale and Phares list the following reasons:
- Fathers who do not provide financial support for their children are viewed as untrustworthy and underserving
- Female providers are not comfortable working with men
- The “men’s movement” is associated with possessive, controlling, and domineering fathers
- Fathers are not necessary
Let’s compare those reasons with survey responses of Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS) workers when asked the extent to which they involve fathers in the intervention. IFPS workers spend a large amount of time with families, usually 40 hours or more over the course of the intervention. The workers knew the identity of the father 75% of the time. But only half the time workers knew where the father lived, established contact with him, involved the father in the case plan and services, and involved the father in connecting with the child. What were some of the barriers for the other half of the time when there was little engagement of fathers?
- The mother refused to identify the father
- The mother revealed the identity of the father but did not want him involved
- The father has too many problems that prevent him from being a resource
- The referring worker did not require the father’s involvement
How can the field of IFPS address these barriers? Framing father involvement as coparenting is one way, and note that coparents may also include kin, step-parents, foster parents, etc. A successful coparenting movement will require a concerted effort that includes joining forces across industries and systems, finding new sources of funding, identifying and scaling up effective models (the federally-funded Responsible Fatherhood programs have not yet produced definitive findings or models), addressing the primarily female workforce perspective, and promoting coparenting in all forms of media.
The National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) has promoted father involvement for the past 15 years and is happy to join the coparenting movement.
Here are some free resources to assist the field of IFPS with father involvement/coparenting:
IFPS Guide to Father Involvement: http://www.nfpn.org/father-involvement/ifps-guide-to-father-inv
Meeting the federal Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSR) standards for father involvement: http://www.nfpn.org/Portals/0/Documents/cfsr_father_involvement.pdf.
Overview of federal fatherhood funding: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL31025.pdf.
Posted by Priscilla Martens, Executive Director
National Family Preservation Network