The thesis describes a piece of research undertaken by a group of social work practitioners who experimented with different techniques and practices in their work-place in an attempt to include fathers. The research took place over a thirty-six month period in a Local Authority Children’s Service in London. The research was supported by senior managers within Children Social Care and by the Local Safeguarding Children Board.
The research asks why and how fathers have been excluded from children and family social work. The research goes on to asks what strategies, methods, conditions and techniques promote inclusive practice for fathers whilst examining the role of ‘the self’ as a researcher, practitioner and participant. The research strategy was based on the participation of practitioners in a co-operative inquiry supported by ‘a before and after’ case file audit designed to test whether the co-operative inquiry, which operated within a ‘front-line’ child protection service, brought about practice change.
The aims of the research were; to design and implement a co-operative inquiry, instigate a range of inclusive targets to support the implementation of a father inclusive strategy across the whole system.
The research concluded that children and family social work is one of the few institutions to confront the perversities and abuses of traditional gender and power relations and this confrontation has led to ‘paternal alienation’.
The work of the co-operative inquiry led to an increase in fathers identified and assessed. An increase in fathers attending meetings and reviews and an increase in fathers recorded as having parental responsibility and an increase in contact arrangements for fathers. There was also a sizeable increase in social workers’ considering the father’s situation in ongoing planning for the child.
We learnt that we can include fathers if there is ‘a whole system and a participative approach’ which identifies how covert power and gender relations influence behaviour in practice. To achieve greater father inclusion social workers’ anxieties need to be contained through safety planning systems and quality reflective supervision. For fathers to be included senior managers must support the activity in the long term, (ten to fifteen years), collect data and set targets whilst strategically committing and realigning resources to meaningfully address domestic abuse.
The research identified that organisational change is possible if the conditions to foster emergence are in place, if the culture that operates in the organisation
supports emergent creativity whilst espousing staff cohesion simultaneously championing social worker empowerment.
This research adds to knowledge in the areas of; father inclusion, risk assessment in child protection, domestic abuse, management, gender and power relations, leadership, group work, participation and collaboration in achieving organisational change.