Family Rights Group Research Paper

Further information on Fathers Matter action research projects 2004 to date

Fathers Matter 1

In 2004 we secured two year funding from The Parenting Fund to develop a project that aimed to identify barriers to the inclusion of fathers and paternal relatives of children within the child welfare system, and to start examining what works and why.

What prompted us was the increasing number of calls to our advice service from non-resident fathers and paternal relatives, some of whom had only heard late in the day that their child had been taken into care. Some had confronted inconsistencies in policies and practices across the country and even within the same authority. As well as being overlooked by social care services, there appeared to be a lack of suitable support services and information materials for these fathers. We found that partner organisations were also witnessing a similar trend: of the 3,000 calls that The Grandparents’ Association received, 70% were from paternal relatives.

It was not only family members who lacked support. There also appeared to be a lack of practical help and advice to inform practitioners’ work with fathers. Nor was there any published research study in the UK that exclusively examined the role and involvement of fathers in the child protection process.

The project's aims were to:

  • Explore the barriers encountered by fathers and paternal relatives whose children are involved with Social Services
  • Identify effective ways of working with fathers and paternal relatives and
  • Recommend steps that could be taken by the judiciary, the courts, national government, and statutory and voluntary agencies.

The project's work programme included:

  • A detailed analysis of calls from fathers to our advice line
  • An international literature review
  • Focus groups and interviews with social care service users including fathers, mothers and wider family members
  • A survey of local authority children's services.

The findings were presented and discussed at a conference held in June 2006.

The published report draws together the project's research studies and findings. Written by Cathy Ashley, Brid Featherstone, Clare Roskill, Mary Ryan and Sue White, it is entitled Research findings on fathers and their involvement with social care services.

Fathers Matter Round 2 (2006-9)

In 2006 we successfully applied to the Parenting Fund to take forward the findings from Fathers Matters Round 1.

The work included:

  • Developing a training course for social care workers and managers in conjunction with Fathers Direct (now Fatherhood Institute) entitled ‘addressing child welfare concerns - working with fathers'
  • Supporting fathers to become joint trainers on this and other social care education courses
  • Working with two Children's Services authorities to develop ‘best practice' models on working with fathers that could be replicated nation-wide
  • Surveying and working with local higher education institutions to improve the teaching of social work students on engaging fathers and on involving fathers in course design and delivery and
  • Providing legal advice and support to fathers and paternal relatives via our national free advice service and the Fathers Matter electronic discussion board on our website.

In May 2008 we held a conference to launch the report and consider its findings. Written by Clare Roskill, Brid Featherstone, Cathy Ashley and Sean Haresnape, the report is entitled Fathers Matter Volume 2: Further findings on fathers and their involvement with social care services (Family Rights Group).

The report can be purchased from the on-line shop.

The report’s recommendations can also be read here. You can also download an executive summary of the Fathers Matter 2 research with two local children's services authorities.

We also produced a DVD which you can buy from the on-line shop entitled Fathers Matter: The views and experiences of fathers on their involvement with local authority children’s services. It includes interviews with fathers whose children have been subject to child protection enquiries or are in the care system. It explores fathers' experiences of children's services, including what they considered to be good practice as well as what could have been done differently. The DVD includes supplementary additional comments from academics, social workers and Family Rights Group. It can be used to support the training of social workers and their managers, social work students and policy makers.

Fathers Matter 3

The third phase of our work focused upon working with fathers who are violent within the home, including:

  • Auditing child in need and child protection case files, local policies and procedures in three localities
  • Conducting focus groups and interviews with social workers and managers, mothers, fathers, and if feasible, children on effective interventions
  • Conducting reviews of international literature, practice models and the legal framework including case law on domestic abuse and the interface between private and public law
  • The development of a day training course for social care practitioners on working with abusive fathers, to be piloted in two parenting fund localities
  • A series of FAQs for fathers on our website on law and practice.
  • An e-learning resource for social work educators.

This work culminated in a conference and a report entitled: Working with Risky Fathers: Fathers Matter 3: Research findings on working with domestically abusive fathers and their involvement with children' social care services. Ashley C ed, Roskill et al (2011).

Stakeholders and Advisers

The Stakeholder Group

Nigel Richardson, former Director of Children’s Service, Leeds City Council (Chair)
Ben Ashcroft, Care experienced and Founder of Every Child Leaving Care Matters
Cllr Judith Blake, Leader, Leeds City Council and Chair of Core Cities UK
Matthew Brazier, Her Majesty’s Inspector, Specialist Adviser (Looked After Children), Ofsted
Nigel Brown, Chief Executive, Cafcass Cymru
Beth Cape Cowens, Child Care lawyer and FRG Trustee
Anthony Douglas, Chief Executive, Cafcass
Angela Frazer-Wicks, Family Rights Group’s Parents’ Panel & Co-Chair of Your Family, Your Voice Alliance
Andrew Gill, Chair, BASW (Representative to be confirmed)
Dez Holmes, Director, Research in Practice
Tony Hunter, Chief Executive, SCIE
Ian Keating, Principal Policy Advisor Children and Young People, Local Government Association
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England
Kevin Makwikila, Member of Family Rights Group's Parents' Panel
Lord Justice Andrew McFarlane, a Lord Justice of Appeal in England and Wales
Mel Meggs, Deputy Director of Children’s Services, Rotherham MBC
Alison Michalska, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and Corporate Director of Children and Adults, Nottingham City Council
Alice Miles, Director of Strategy, Children’s Commissioner for England
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division
Alasdair Smith, Director of Children’s Services, LB Southwark
Rachael Wardell, Corporate Director of Communities with Responsibility for Children and Adult Services, West Berkshire Council (and lead for ADCS on workforce development)
Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board and Leader of the LB Islington
Sue Williams, Director of Family Safeguarding, Hertfordshire County Council

Advisers to the Review

Professor Janet Boddy, University of Sussex
Professor Karen Broadhurst, University of Lancaster
Tracey Budd, Programme Head (Justice), Nuffield Foundation
Alex Clark, Secretary to the President of the Family Division
Professor Judith Harwin, University of Lancaster
Dr Lisa Holmes, Deputy Director, Rees Centre, Oxford University
Professor Joan Hunt, Cardiff University
Professor Kate Morris, University of Sheffield
Dinithi Wijedasa, Research Fellow, University of Bristol
Teresa Williams, Director of Social Research and Policy, the Nuffield Foundation

Facilitators of the Review

Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive, Family Rights Group
Dorit Braun, Project Manager, Family Rights Group
Pam Ledward, Principal Social Work Adviser, Family Rights Group
Caroline Lynch, Principal Legal Adviser, Family Rights Group
Mary Ryan, Lawyer and Consultant, Ryan Tunnard Brown
Caroline Thomas, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Stirling
Jo Tunnard, Consultant, Ryan Tunnard Brown


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