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Foster fathers and carework: engaging alternate models of parenting.

Previous research on foster fathers suggests that such fathers often model parenting practices that may counter the abusive experiences of fathering enacted within their birth families, thus contributing to the breaking of negative parenting patterns. The present research sought to examine how a group of Australian foster fathers understand their role as fathers and their practices in creating families. More specifically, attention was paid to extending previous research that has found that foster fathers often parent in non-gender normative ways, and the implications of this for child-focused modes of care provision. Drawing on interviews and focus groups involving 31 gay and heterosexual foster fathers, most of whom were providing long-term care, the findings suggest that these men engage in child-focused approaches to care provision that provide a balance between adult's and children's needs and which involve a clear commitment to providing positive role models for children that often rework gender-normative approaches to parenting as men.

Keywords: foster fathering, role models, carework, child-focused parenting, thematic analysis


In the current Australian foster care system, and as opposed to the US or UK where adoption is the preferred option, a significant majority of children removed from their birth families are placed into long-term care arrangements that are intended to provide a family environment in which children may live (Bromfield & Higgins, 2005). Whilst there is considerable diversity across the eight state and territory jurisdictions that legislate foster care in Australia in regard to the numbers of children placed into long-term foster care, and whilst some children will eventually return to live with their birth parents, many children will remain in the care of a foster parent or parents who create a family with that child (Bromfield & Higgins; Riggs, Delfabbro & Augoustinos, 2007; 2008). In this context, children often develop significant emotional attachments to the adults who care for them, as do the adults in return. As such, foster parents, and the care they provide, will likely play a significant role in foster children's developing sense of self and the choices they make in the future.

One of the domains in which foster parents may contribute to shaping the lives of foster children is in relation to healing from prior abuse that occurred within their birth family. In this regard foster parents may be involved in modeling positive ways of relating as family members. Whilst current research has demonstrated the key role that foster mothers play in this regard (e.g., Dozier & Lindheim, 2006; Dozier et al., 2001), little research has examined how foster fathers may also contribute to this modeling of more positive family relations.

Previous research on biological fathers suggests that children, at least in part, learn about the range of future possible parenting identities they may adopt from those involved in parenting them (Masciadrelli, Pleck, & Stueve, 2006). Furthermore, research on fathering suggests that men are differentially motivated to actively engage in parenting dependent upon the beliefs they hold about the parenting roles available them (McBride & Rane, 2006). If we are to tentatively map these findings across to the experiences of children raised in foster care, it is possible to consider the positive role that foster fathers may play in modeling ways of parenting to the children in their care that may counter previous negative experiences of male parent role modeling (i.e., by biological fathers). As such, examining the ways in which foster fathers understand their roles and the parenting practices they undertake has much to offer not only to our understanding of the care provided in the context of long-term foster families in Australia, but also to the potentially therapeutic role that foster fathers may play even in short term placements in Australia and in interim foster placements in the U.S. and UK prior to adoptive placement.

Previous Research on Foster Fathers

Previous research suggests that foster fathers, much like biological fathers, desire to share their own sense of meaning and values with children and to help children broaden their perspectives on the world (Inch, 1999). As Inch suggests; "Fostering can involve the fulfillment of a sense of social commitment and observing children grow and mature. The value associated with the child is an emotional one, not financial. It involves a willingness to assume the same responsibility and commitment as with a biological or adopted child" (p. 400). Foster fathers (as well as foster mothers) do this despite parenting in a context where guardianship of foster children is typically held by the State.

In regards to the division of labor in (heterosexual) foster parent-headed households in the UK, Wilson and colleagues (2007) found in their research that of the household tasks they assessed, the majority were undertaken equally by both male and female foster parents, including those behaviors that may be seen to promote attachment between the carer and child. They suggest further that this sharing of tasks
   ... was true of many activities that might, in previous
   generations, have been regarded as part of the "mothering" role,
   and included tasks such as household cleaning; attending the school
   parents' evening; reading bedtime stories; comforting an upset
   child; helping with homework; and talking to children about any
   problems, fears or worries they might have. (p. 30)

Another area that receives considerable attention within the literature on foster fathers is that of foster fathers acting as role models. In a positive sense, some of the literature emphasizes the ways that foster fathers can model good parenting behaviors that foster children may not have previously seen in their experiences of being parented. As Inch (1999) suggests: "children and youth in foster care are presumed to have poor working models of socially acceptable, productive parent-child and male-female relationships" (p. 402, emphasis added). Whilst this may not necessarily be true for all children in care, it nonetheless highlights how both male and female foster parents may model for children alternate means of engaging in adult/child or child/parent relationships.

Other research has emphasized the ways in which foster fathers may model specifically gendered forms of parenting and of being men. Some such research (e.g., Davids, 1973; Gilligan, 2000) has emphasized men's roles in a particularly gender normative way, thus potentially undermining the finding of an equity of labor within heterosexual foster families. Thus foster fathers are reported in this research as being able to model behaviors solely for boys (rather than for children of all genders), and that foster fathers only engage in modeling specific masculine behaviors (such as being a "protector," "disciplinarian" or "perspective giver," or engaging in "outdoor activities" or "being more energetic").

Contrarily, other research examining the roles and beliefs of foster fathers has suggested that some foster fathers rework traditional notions of masculinity and carework in their parenting practices. In his research on foster fathers, Newstone (2000) compares "traditional" understandings of men as parents to "nurturing" understandings that provide alternate models of what it means to be a father. In this sense, Newstone's research addresses how foster fathers negotiate "hegemonic masculinities"--those forms of masculinities that dominate or which are accepted as the norm (Connell, 1995).

As such, Newstone's research highlights the fact that social workers need to be clear about what they expect of men as role models in the context of foster care, and that there must be room for negotiation in regards to differences amongst men. Newstone's research is a salient reminder that some men do more than just "be men" and play with children--they also care for and nurture children. However, and as Doucet (2006) points out, men who rework traditional gender norms around fathering do not necessarily become mothers--they are still very much men doing carework. What they do engage in is a reworking of both how carework is understood, and what it means to be a man who parents a child.

Research Questions

On the basis of the existing research on foster fathers, we were interested to explore how a sample of Australian foster fathers understood their roles, identities and parenting practices. More specifically, and on the basis of previous findings from the UK of relative equity within heterosexual foster families in regard to the division of labor, we were interested to explore how Australian heterosexual foster fathers see their role in the family household. We were also interested to explore how all of the foster fathers in our sample (both heterosexual and gay) engage in particular parenting practices. Finally, we were interested to explore Newstone's (2000) suggestion that foster fathers potentially model alternate ways of parenting as men through the enactment of a range of masculine identities, or whether it is indeed the case, as Gilligan (2000) suggests, that foster fathers primarily engage in relatively normative forms of parenting that prop up hegemonic masculinities.



The data analyzed here are drawn from a broad corpus of individual interviews and focus groups conducted as part of a national research project examining why people choose to undertake care provision and how to best attract new foster parents. Ten interviews with couples and fifteen focus groups were conducted. Of a total of 80 participants, 31 were men and 49 were women. Of the male participants, 20 were in a heterosexual marriage, four were in a long-term same-sex relationship (two couples interviewed), four were single heterosexual men and three were single gay men. Three-quarters of the married heterosexual men had biological children, with none of the gay men and only one of the single heterosexual men having biological children. The majority of the men (67%) who had biological children had older children (average age 17). The majority of the men identified as white Australians (81%), with three identifying as Chinese Australians, two as Indian Australians and one as Tongan. The median age of the male participants was 45 years, with ages ranging from 30 to 60 years. The men lived in one of four Australian states: 10 lived in Queensland, 10 lived in Victoria, six lived in New South Wales and five lived in South Australia.

In relation to foster placements, the majority of the men (81%) at the time of data collection were providing long-term care to foster children, with twenty of these men having one foster child living in their house and the remaining 5 having two or more foster children living with them on a long-term basis. The remaining six men provided short-term or respite care for foster children. These six men provided care for children ranging in age from five to 15, whilst the men who provided long-term care had comparatively younger children, aged between two and ten years, with an average age of six years.


Ethics approval was sought and granted from both the university through which the research was conducted and the foster care organizations with whom the foster parents were registered. Participants were recruited at events targeted at foster parents (conferences and workshops), through mail outs to foster care organizations, and through referrals from within both the authors' research networks and the participants' own networks. Interested participants were provided with information about the research and were invited to participate in either an interview or focus group, depending on their preference and comfort in engaging in a focus group setting. The interviews were typically conducted within the participants' own home, whilst the focus groups were conducted within the authors' university.

A standardized interview format including 10 questions was used, with questions covering motivations to care (e.g., "Would you like to share some of the reasons why you became a foster parent?"), social representations of foster care (e.g., "How do you see foster care represented in your community and amongst your social networks?") and experiences of being a foster parent (e.g., "Could you tell me about what it is like for you being a foster parent?"). Interviews and focus groups were conducted by the first author and were audio taped and transcribed orthographically. All participants were allocated a pseudonym following transcription to provide anonymity.

Analytic Approach

Subsequent to transcription, the data were analyzed according to the tenets of thematic analysis outlined by Braun and Clarke (2006). Thematic analysis has previously been utilized in research on fathering (e.g., Masciadrelli, Pleck, & Stueve, 2006) and thus was considered appropriate for use in this project. The first author began by closely reading the portions of interviews or focus groups in which foster fathers spoke, noting the key topics discussed. Particular attention was given to discussions of the roles, identities and parenting practices of foster fathers. Despite attention explicitly paid during this reading period to differences amongst the male participants, and perhaps due to the relative homogeneity of the sample (the majority being white heterosexually married men with biological children), there appeared to be a relatively uniform picture of how men spoke about their role as foster fathers. We take this as indicating the veracity of the themes identified, as the men typically spoke either with their partners, or in focus groups with female foster parents, and thus there was little sense from the interviewer that these findings were the product of collaboration between foster fathers, but rather than they represent a broadly similar set of beliefs amongst this sample of Australian foster fathers. The resulting extracts of data from the male participants were then grouped into particular themes on the basis of the similarity of the ideas being discussed by participants, with two dominant themes emerging: 1) foster fathers' understandings of family and 2) foster fathers as role models. Representative extracts were then chosen for closer analysis.

Following the tenets of discourse analysis (e.g., Potter, 1996), with a focus on both the rhetorical devices deployed by participants to legitimate particular identities, and an examination of the broader social contexts upon which the participants appeared to draw, an in-depth analysis was conducted on eight extracts. These extracts were chosen both for the relative diversity of participants represented by the extracts, and for their clarity of attention to the themes identified. Such an approach to analysis is less concerned with producing generalizable findings about a particular population, and more concerned with exploring the apparent range of discourses available through which a specific topic is constructed. As such, the analysis presented here, whilst broadly indicative of the ways in which Australian foster fathers from across four states talk about their parenting practices and roles, may not necessarily represent all of the ways in which foster fathers understand these two domains. Nonetheless, the findings provide important insight into the experiences of foster fathers in the Australian context.

Foster Fathers' Understandings of Family

Foster fathers spoke in varying ways about the families they had created with foster children, what these families meant to them, and why they were motivated to care for children. Within this theme, two sub-themes were evident: The first outlines how foster fathers balanced their own needs and those of their foster children, and the second sub-theme highlights the "work" of foster care provision for foster fathers, but nonetheless celebrates the importance of foster families.

Balancing Children's and Adults' Needs

In the first extract Martin, a foster carer who is the biological father of two children and a grandfather to five children, discussed at length the decision he and his wife made to welcome foster children into their house after their biological children had left home. As he states:
   I think when you get to a certain age, and your children have grown
   up, you think this is ridiculous living like this when you have
   room to help and you are still able to care for children who
   haven't had the lucky life we have had. Even though we come from
   big families, now with what we have now it is just nice to have
   family around and be able to help children. In other words it is a
   lonely house. When you don't have children it is a lonely house. It
   was just us, we thought we need some kids in the house and we know
   we can look after them. We brought up ours okay.

Here Martin is clear that he has needs as an adult ("it is a lonely house"), but he is also emphatic that children have needs that should be met ("children who haven't had the lucky life we have had"). Martin's account of foster care provision is thus one that is up-front about his needs as an adult ("we need some kids in the house"), whilst maintaining a child-focused approach to care provision ("we can look after them"). As such, Martin's focus appears to be upon both his ability to parent children ("we brought up ours okay") and a responsibility to make the best of the "lucky life we have had." In this sense, being child-focused is about being able to take into account a broad range of contexts and needs and to provide "help" as appropriate that meets the needs of all parties.

Robert, a single gay carer, provided a somewhat different account of child-focused care, in which he told of his own commitment to a particular child that required him to place the needs of the (now adult) child above his own, even though prioritizing his own needs would have potentially brought him further recognition as a foster father:

Robert: One of my friends was going to put me in for Father of the Year and I said, "You do that and I will drown you."

Jan: Imagine a good story media coverage you can get from that though, to have a foster carer who is not doing the kind of standard pretty little family with 2 children and now want 2 more, but to be working with kids on the edge and don't fit into the normal system.

Robert: But what about that boy, what effect would that have on him.... I just think that the media circus of that would have been detrimental to him.

Robert was clear that any needs he may have for recognition as a foster father (through an award) are second to the needs of the young adult he continues to care for. As Jan suggests, if Robert had been nominated and indeed won the father of the year contest, this would have been a "good story." Yet in response to this Robert brings the focus back to what this would have meant for the young adult to whom he is a father ("the media circus of that would have been detrimental to him"). Thus, even though Robert appears clear about his location within the category "father" (otherwise he may well have rejected the nomination for "father of the year" on the basis of not claiming category membership as a father), he appears intent upon emphasizing the ways in which his fathering centres upon the young adult he cares for, and that his fathering is thus something that arises from that relationship, rather than from awards per se.

These two extracts highlight some of the ways in which the foster fathers in this study attempted to negotiate the differing needs of adults and children, and the subtle ways in which they often shifted their own possible desires to meet the needs of children. Whilst these extracts demonstrate slightly differing modes of balancing the needs of adults and children (where one foster father attempted to strike a balance and the other prioritized the needs of his foster child over his own possible needs), they nonetheless highlight these foster fathers' commitment to child-focused practice that recognizes that children do have needs and their right to have their needs met.

Committing to Children

Foster fathers also spoke about the work that goes into care provision, but did so in ways that emphasized a commitment to children, rather than an understanding of the work of parenting as being a "job." Men highlighted both the challenges and strengths of foster fathers and their understandings of their families. For example, Dan outlines the commitment that being a foster father signifies in the context of identifying as a gay man.
   That is what [my co-parent] and I said when we were breaking up is
   that we both were delusional in thinking that it would be quite
   easy to find someone else. We were together for 7 years before we
   decided to break up; it wasn't working and I think we both thought
   we would meet someone else, it won't be hard. But to meet someone
   else who is willing to take on [our child too], well we are both
   realising we must be on drugs to think we were going to meet
   someone who can do that. We were in the car going to a birthday
   party the other day and [our child] was doing something bizarre and
   [my co-parent] said, "No one is ever going to get this, are they?"
   And I said, "No, it is you and me forever together in this
   parenting gig."

Dan was clear that a commitment to caring for a child post-separation can be experienced as difficult (such as in the difficulty in meeting someone new who is willing to care for a children in some form). Nonetheless, Dan reported that he and his co-parent have a shared commitment to co-parenting and that they recognize the 'forever' nature of parenting. Dan's reference to the challenges of foster parenting post-separation thus clearly sits alongside a long-term commitment to parenting in a family context ("it is you and me forever in this parenting gig"). Dan's location of himself and his co-parent within a discourse of family is apparent in his statement that "no one is ever going to get this," where "this" appears to refer to family and parenting and all that this entails for Dan and his co-parent. "Getting this" thus signifies the location of Dan and his co-parent within a discourse of family that they "get."

Finally Wayne, a man who was interviewed with his wife and who cares for one child long term makes a very simple, but nonetheless powerful, statement about himself as a foster father, when he says, "We don't see it as our job. It is a huge commitment. Sure, it can be hard sometimes when you have to deal with social workers and agencies, and yes being paid does make it possible to do more things for the children. But for us it is about making a commitment to raise these children." Here Wayne neatly sums up how all of the foster fathers described their commitment to foster care - all reported that it wasn't done for financial gain, or for self promotion, or as a duty, but rather because it was how they saw themselves as people living in a world where some children require a 'huge commitment' from people willing to care for them outside of their birth family (see Riggs & Delfabbro, 2008, for an elaboration of how the broader sample similarly understood the relationship between payment for care provision and the creation of family).

As an overview of what many of the male participants had to say, these extracts highlight how foster fathers are both aware of the difficulties associated with being a male foster parent, but they all nonetheless stressed that the sense of family and the joy of raising children was the primary experience they had of care provision.

Foster Fathers as Role Models

Foster fathers often spoke at length about the role they played as models for the children in their care, with this often being described as an important counter to the behaviors of the children's birth fathers. Fathers emphasized more generally their role as a positive influence in the lives of children and their capacity to provide care.

Countering Previous Experiences of Fathering

Some of the foster fathers we interviewed spoke about the importance of their role in providing a counterbalance to foster children who had previously lived with abusive biological fathers. Henry, a single heterosexual foster father, spoke about his perception of the importance of his role modeling alternate forms of fathering or masculinity to children placed in his care:
   The thing that is often missing [for foster children] is that their
   dads are complete ratfinks, so you need balanced males that yes,
   they have weaknesses, yes I am not a he-man, I have these foibles,
   but I can stand quite tall and be successful within society without
   out being X type of man. And we can have good times. One of the
   children I have looked after in particular I know really got into
   that phase of totally looking up to me and almost asking advice
   when he was quite young, which I thought was for me the glowing
   report when somebody will treat you in that way, so that is what I
   felt as a male I was suited to this particular role rather well and
   I could do something very special.

Henry is clear that whilst some foster children have lived with birth "dads [who] are complete ratfinks," this does not mean that foster fathers must counter this with a positive, yet equally hegemonic, form of fathering. Thus Henry is happy to acknowledge that whilst he does have "weaknesses" and "foibles" he is also "successful within society." Henry receives affirmation for engaging in fathering in potentially non-normative ways when he gets a "glowing report [that] someone will treat you [as a role model]," particularly when Henry seems aware that the types of masculinities he models are not necessarily the norm (like "X type of man"). Henry's account thus demonstrates how foster fathers who engage in a range of modeling for children as parents and as men are both positive for children ("something very special") and positive for foster fathers ("which I thought was for me the glowing report").

Martin similarly outlines how his engagement in non-normative parenting as a foster father has been useful for working with foster children. When asked how he would manage challenging behaviors with foster children, Martin asserted:
   If they did something wrong, they have time out and then I take
   them back and tell them why it was wrong what they did and we sit
   there and we talk about it. Some of children's Dads would scream and
   shout and lash out. We have boundaries and I tell them what they
   are and everything is fine. We have had a lot of fun. We come from
   a musical background and when we have the boys I would play the
   guitar and the kids are sitting there it is calming to them,
   calming the house and they can sing along. It is different to what
   they have ever done and they are allowed to sing.

In response to a question about managing behaviors, Martin outlined how he and his wife engage very clearly with children around boundaries. Moreover, Martin was clear about the distinction between "Dads [who] would scream and shout and lash out" and his own parenting practices. His account of having "lots of fun" is countered by the statement that music and singing are "calming" for the children--Martin not only engages in behaviors that may be considered traditionally masculine, but also in behaviors that involve boundary setting and emotional nurturance. Martin was explicit in stating that what he does is "different to what [the children] have ever done"--his parenting style as a man is different to those men who do not engage in the practices that Martin does.

Foster fathers were quite aware of the experiences of being fathered that foster children will often bring with them, and that as a result they are active and intentional in countering this with alternate ways of being a father. Not only does this involve adopting a non-violent approach to engaging with children, but it also involves potentially modeling non-gender normative ways of parenting as a male.

Being a Positive Influence

The findings also suggest that foster fathers emphasized the positive influence they can be in the context of a child's life. Whilst this is a similar focus to that of the previous sub-theme, the ways in which it was discussed by participants had little to do with the actions of birth fathers, and was primarily about foster father's own choices and actions.

Wayne and his wife Meg outlined how they engage with their foster son in regards to naming and family and what this reflects about Wayne's role as a father. We asked them which words they would use to describe their family. They responded by stating:

Meg: We are more about the way [our child] sees it really. He always used to say when people said, "Your mum and dad," "No, they are my foster mum and dad" or "They are my foster carers," but nowadays he doesn't correct people as much about it I notice. The other day he said to you he wished you were his dad....

Wayne: I am happy with whatever he calls me, I just pleased that he feels closer to us now and that perhaps that is a result of all the positive things we do together and the time we spend, him and I, just hanging out.

Both Meg and Wayne were clear about their decision to allow their foster child to determine how their family is described. Meg stated clearly that although the child they care for had previously maintained a distinction between them as foster parents and his birth parents, he had moved towards recognizing Wayne also as his Dad. For Wayne, this was potentially the outcome of the time they had spent together and the influence that Wayne had become in the child's life.

Andrew presented a somewhat different description of his journey to becoming a foster parent from that expressed by other foster fathers. Nonetheless, he emphasized the importance of his role as a foster father:
   Yes. I have three children who are all married and moved away. Our
   house has been child free for about 10 years; a lot of people are
   asking the question why?! You should be looking to retirement. I
   think it is a good thing to do and for the most part I enjoy it.
   Being able to have a positive influence on a young person that is
   not as advantaged-that is something I am glad to offer and which I
   can already see as having positive benefits in our current

Throughout the interview Andrew recounted the ways in which he and his wife came to provide foster care. He reported that his wife had heard about foster care at work, and suggested to him that they consider doing it as their biological children no longer lived at home. As opposed to most of the foster fathers who had biological children (some of whom lived at home still and others of whom had not been out of the family home for long), Andrew reported that their house had been "child free for about 10 years" and that "people are asking the question why" he wants to be a foster parent. Yet despite this, Andrew emphasized that it is a "good thing to do," and the importance of being a "positive influence on a young person that is not as advantaged." This opportunity to be a "positive influence" appeared to outweigh the potentially negative aspects of carework for Andrew.

In sum, foster fathers believed that there was a positive role they could play within the context of their foster families. Rather than primarily being about countering previous negative experiences of fathering that children may have experienced, the men who spoke about their role in this way (as illustrated by these two extracts) focused upon the dynamics of their family and the positive outcomes of being a father to particular children.


The findings presented in this paper provide a broad picture of what this sample of Australian foster fathers considered to be the most important aspects of their role as parents, and the families they have been involved in creating. As per previous research, the male participants in this study spoke of their active role in parenting and their commitment to child-focused care provision. In support of Newstone's (2000) finding that foster fathers can model alternate ways of parenting as a man, the foster fathers in the present research similarly reported some of the ways in which they negotiate their role as parents that stand in contrast not only to the parenting behaviors of foster children's birth fathers, but also potentially in contrast to the typical behaviors expected of fathers (i.e., not only do they have fun with children, but they also engage in nurturing behaviors that promote attachment). This would appear to contradict Gilligan's (2000) suggestion that foster fathers primarily enact gender normative forms of parenting as men, though further research is required to ascertain whether this finding is limited to this sample or is broadly indicative of Australian foster fathers.

Finally, whilst the numbers of gay or single heterosexual foster fathers were relatively small, it is important to note the inclusion of this population in the findings, and the relative similarities between the ways in which the heterosexual and gay foster fathers engaged in care provision. Obviously the experiences of gay foster fathers will often occur in social contexts where they may at times experience discrimination or prejudice (Riggs & Augoustinos, 20009), but this does not appear to undermine the commitment of the gay foster fathers in the present study to caring for children.

Obviously the findings presented here are based on a relatively small and homogenous sample. Yet, as is the case with qualitative research more broadly, this does not undermine the validity of the conclusions reached nor the merits of the study. The findings presented here are indicative of the experiences of a group of foster fathers living in a range of different social and familial contexts. The relative similarity of their experiences should not necessarily be read as a limitation of the study, but rather may indicate a relatively similar set of beliefs guiding the practices of Australian foster fathers; namely, to engage in child-focused care provision in a family context that attempts to address the previous experiences of familial abuse that foster children have experienced.

Nonetheless, future research may extend the findings presented here through the collection of quantitative data in addition to interviews or focus groups in order to assess the specific behaviors and beliefs that Australian foster fathers may exhibit. Future research would also benefit from examining the relationship between how heterosexual foster fathers and their partners (where they care in the context of a relationship) understand the foster fathering role, as previous research on biological fathers has suggested that heterosexual men's roles as fathers are often mediated by how their female partners engage with them as co-parents (McBride & Rane, 1997). Finally, a comparison of the experiences of foster and biological fathers would appear to be another useful avenue for future research that explores the differing ways in which men understand their role as fathers and the range of gendered behaviors they enact in this regard.

In conclusion, this paper has extended upon previous research on foster fathers and opened up a range of avenues for future research on foster fathers. Whilst, as Doucet (2006) emphasizes, it is important to remember that men parent as men in Western societies that continue to be configured via the norms of heteropatriarchy, the men in this study highlight some of the opportunities that exist for men to parent in ways that very much recognize their location as men, but which also challenge and rework what it means to be a father. It is therefore important that emphasis continues to be placed upon the role that some men play not only in propping up hegemonic masculinities, but also in challenging such hegemonies. As many of the men reported, the children they care for were very open to new ways of relating to the men in their lives. This suggests that taking a child focus that emphasizes modeling supportive and caring parent-child relationships and non-gender normative modes of fathering may have much to contribute to challenging the oppressive social norms that continue to result in high rates of child abuse, both in Australia and internationally.

DOI: 10.3149/fth.0801.24


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Damien W. Riggs (a), Paul H. Delfabbro (a), and Martha Augoustinos (a)

(a) School of Psychology, The University of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.

We acknowledge the sovereignty of the Kourna people, the First Nations people upon whose land we live in Adelaide, South Australia. This research was supported by an ARC Discovery Grant, DP0666189.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Damien W. Riggs, School of Psychology, The University of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia 5005. Electronic mail:
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Author:Riggs, Damien W.; Delfabbro, Paul H.; Augoustinos, Martha
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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