Manufacturing Ghost Fathers: The Paradox of Father Presence and Absence in Child Welfare

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Child & Family Social Work, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp. 25-34.

This study explores the invisibility of fathers in the child welfare system in Canada. The authors look at child welfare policies which appear to promote and reinforce the “uninvolved” father, both in child maltreatment but also in engagement and inclusion in child protection services. This study includes a review of 116 randomly selected child protection files from a child protection agency in a midsized city in Canada. Analyses of policies, practices, literature, and case reviews demonstrates the pervasiveness of the irrelevance of fathers in the child welfare system. The study finds that almost 50% of fathers are considered irrelevant to mothers and children; over 60% of fathers deemed of risk to children are not contacted by child protection agencies, and are not contacted 50% of the time when of risk to mothers.

Fathers are often not considered placement resources, even when children will be placed in permanent guardianship and are often not identified by mothers for economic and welfare related reasons. There is an inherent focus by majority white, young female workers to promote the mother as protector and responsible agent for change in the father, even when she is the victim. Furthermore, the study notes that social work education does not provide discourse on engaging fathers, which further propagates responsibility on women and the invisibility of men for the care of children in the child welfare system.

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Canadian CW research
Journal article