A Sure Start

Last month three of us contributed to a conference hosted by Sure Start in West Lothian entitled ‘The Invisible Man: working with fathers’.

David Drysdale was first up and his bit on men, fathers and caring was well received. The third was John Roger’s presentation on Mellow Dads and this also went down well with evidence of children being able to return home after work with the father.

By now, you’ll be wondering about the middle one. This was mine. I’d spent some time on researching ‘Social Work and Fathers: absences, stereotypes and children’s welfare’ and, as you do, believed that I had something to say about how social work tends to marginalise fathers.

I presented what I thought were some killer examples of how fathers are regularly depicted as threats or made invisible e.g. the new Scottish Government guidelines on Child Protection has a picture on its front of cover of a family – two children and a mother.

But this food for thought caused some indigestion among some participants and the result was ‘an ear-bashing’ according to one onlooker.

Some asked for proof of what was being said about social workers neglecting fathers, another felt that because West Lothian had had a good social work inspection that this meant fathers could not be being overlooked and a third commented that fathers were ‘not exactly beating down the doors’ to get involved.

Well, 1. a greater academic talk with references and reading felt the wrong thing to do (but these have since been supplied to the conference organisers);

2. Social Work Inspections aren’t the most reliable measure of good practice (think Haringey/Good Inspection/then Baby P.) and as subsequently noted, the most recent West Lothian Inspection has nothing to say about fathers and much to say about parents – for which read mothers and therefore child care and protection being women-only business;

and 3. as for fathers not beating down doors, if they knew where the doors were, they might raise a clamour – but if they did they might end up down a snake for being too aggressive…

Don’t get me wrong. In the discussions during the breaks, there were a number of great examples of engaging fathers: social workers Margaret and Angela have been running popular weekly meetings on a shoe string in a community centre for one and half years. This involves fathers of all shapes and sizes e.g. father figures, fathers with children in the child protection system.

Another domestic abuse worker described to me her going the extra mile to encourage an imprisoned father and child bonding.

So, are we dismayed and down-hearted? No way. Given the deep-seated mistrust of fathers, one conference won’t change things. But it’s a sure start. So good on you West Lothian Sure Start.

Gary Clapton
June 2011