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Friday, April 3, 2015

The invisible man

People of a certain age might recall of fictional character, The Invisible Man. Well, it turns out that there is such a character in child protection as well. And he may be the more dangerous person.

I have been involved in assessment cases where I have become aware that the mother I am assessing is in a new relationship. When I have raised this, I have been told that the new man isn't important because he is not a legal guardian. Yet, there have been cases where the "invisible" man was dangerous. I think of Baby Peter and Victoria Climbie in the UK as examples as examples where the new but invisible or unassessed men presented real risks.

The NSPCC in the UK has just released a brief summary of their review of the hidden men. What is important is that they note the positive and negative role that men can play in the lives of children. When a child may be at risk with the mother, for example, the father may, if properly assessed, constitute another placement option.

But, when there are concerns, it is vital that the man come out of the shadows. How might this happen is complicated by privacy legislation. Professionals working with the man may be reluctant to disclose to child protection when there is an absence of clear understanding about the nature of the relationship he has with children and the risks he may pose. The professional may feel that they lack a mandated reporting situation as they may have only limited knowledge.

Equally, a women entering a new relationship may have many needs that are being met that she does not wish to place at risk. He may provide a sense of being cared for or loved. He may also bring needed financial resources. Keeping track of collateral sources of information (other family, the children, biological fathers, schools) may result in disclosure that there is new male in the picture.

The new relationship needs to be assessed. It should not be seen as automatically bad or good. Rather, it should be understood. What might the man bring that could support or detract from the safety and care of the children?

Basic social work tools such as genograms, encomaps along with being inquisitive can allow information to come forward. The big deal is getting to know and assess current partners, former partners who may still be involved with the children as well as biological fathers. What can they bring or do the children need protection?

The study results can be found at this link