Pre-birth child protection and the reproductive rights of fathers


  • Ariane Critchley The University of Stirling, Scotland


Reproductive justice, fathers, pregnancy, infant removal


INTRODUCTION: Whilst acknowledging that child-welfare-involved pregnant women occupy a uniquely precarious position in terms of their human dignity and rights, this paper focuses on the vulnerabilities of fathers of children subject to child protection assessment before birth.

APPROACH: This article draws on data from two qualitative research studies focused on social work practice in Scotland. The first study created ethnographic data with and about eight fathers who were experiencing pre-birth child protection involvement with their babies. The second study did not include fathers themselves, yet research data were created through interviews with 10 birth mothers, which reinforced findings of the prior research in relation to men being written out of planning and legal processes before their children were born.

FINDINGS: Taking a reproductive justice lens to the findings of the studies reveals how this population of fathers are exposed to legal and social precarity in relation to their paternal role. Through the advice of social workers, women were encouraged not to name the fathers of their as yet unborn infants on their child’s birth certificate, creating an immediate barrier to fathers’ involvement.

IMPLICATIONS: The article demonstrates that a reproductive justice framework (L. Ross & Solinger, 2017) can be applied  to understand how men’s rights to parent their children may be compromised by child protection involvement in the family. Acknowledging the power held by social workers is a crucial step in beginning to address the social inequalities around “reproductive destiny” (L. Ross, 2006, p. 4) experienced by fathers.


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How to Cite

Critchley, A. (2023). Pre-birth child protection and the reproductive rights of fathers. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 35(4), 31–44. Retrieved from