Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Hilary Jenkinson, Katharina Swirak and Alastair Christie
Joint World Conference on Social Work Education and Social Development 2018
Locating fathers in contemporary family support work in the Republic of Ireland
RDS, Dublin, Ireland
Oral Presentation
Optional Fields
Contemporary Irish policy discourse on ‘family support’ is framed largely as ‘gender neutral’. At the same time, family support workers at the local level implement policies in gender specific ways. Mothers are often approached as the ‘default parent’, yet there is also a growing recognition of the need to support fathers as parents. This latter development has to be contextualised both in light of changing Irish family structures, as well as the impacts of the recent recession. Over recent decades, there has been a significant increase in female-headed one- parent households and a high non-marital birth rate, alongside increasing patterns of cohabitation, divorce, same-sex families and reconstituted families. While there have been legislative/policy changes impacting on fatherhood, gender inequalities in unpaid care work and access to parental leave, along with levels of violence within families have remained largely unchanged. This paper analyses the views and experiences of family support workers in three different family support centres in the Republic of Ireland when engaging with fathers. It explores the support workers’ understandings of the both the cultures and practices fatherhood in relation to hegemonic forms of masculinity. The findings show how several interrelated factors shape the ways in which family support workers engage with fathers. These include the large number of female lone-headed families engaging with family support work; the main emphasis placed on children’s wellbeing as the ultimate focus of family support work and a level of professional pragmatism when faced with tracing ‘absent’ and/or ‘risky’ fathers. Recommendations drawn from the findings are suggested for the development of father inclusive family support work.