Department of Family Services

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Michael A. Becketts

Engaging Men: Decreasing shame and stigma

White Paper

Engaging Men Workgroup, Overview and Recommendations

Fairfax County Department of Family Services
August 2022

men on a bench talkingThe Department of Family Services (DFS) Equity Lead Team and the Engaging Men Workgroup present this white paper to raise the Department’s awareness of how we see certain populations – particularly men of color – in our work throughout DFS. Through training, research, and analysis, the workgroup has identified a gap in how we engage with men, and more specifically, men of color. This paper describes the gap and is presented to the DFS Senior Management Team and the DFS Equity Team as a lens to further shape our approach to working with men of color who seek our services as caregivers of children and adults. This team asks the DFS SMT to review and as appropriate integrate the recommended equity practices across the department in current and future planning and incorporate the tenets of this paper into the department’s Strategic Framework and the 2023 Equity Impact Plan. As leaders aligned with the DFS values, we should hold ourselves accountable on how we – with intention – operationalize the recommendations.


The common construct of masculinity in the United States purports that men have certain expectations and normative gender roles in the context of family and interpersonal relationships and community presence. Specifically, they are providers and protectors for their families. When engaging with an organization like the Department of Family Services the typical social construct of masculinity is discordant with reasons that a man is engaged with the agency.

It is typical that, when in transaction with DFS, men are seeking supports like food assistance, employment assistance, caregiving assistance, services as a someone who caused harm to or were harmed by an intimate partner, child, family member, or vulnerable adult. Seeking support from DFS or being required to work with DFS may conflict with the common discourse of masculinity in our culture. Contrary to this narrative, the services and resources offered by DFS are available to support wellness in families and with individuals. Accessing these services should be without shame or stigma as our services are to support resilience and self-sufficiency in families.

As DFS focuses its equity lens and associated work with men and boys, we notice that in child welfare every child has a father and he and his family should be engaged at the start of a protective services intervention; in Domestic and Sexual Violence Services men are also victims and should be taught to be violence interrupters in homes and communities; in Adult Services while many men are in need of support services to improve their quality of life, many men are also caretakers of aging and disabled spouses and family members; and in Public Assistance and Employment Services men are also in need of food, access to health care, cash assistance and employment supports. While not all male bodied people subscribe to the gender-specific attributes and normative behaviors prescribed by society, men may feel they are subjugated when in supportive services or their behavior is deemed in conflict with society’s view of the role of provider and protector.

Men have a vital role to play in addressing unequal power dynamics in interpersonal relationships and ending violence against women and in the community. Inequality and oppression in all its forms is among the root causes of intimate partner, sexual, and family violence. These forms of violence are preventable through collaborations of community members at multiple levels of society—in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, faith settings, workplaces, and other settings. We all play a role in violence prevention and in establishing norms of respect, safety, equality, and helping others. Efforts to engage men and boys in interrupting cycles of violence is growing rapidly, across policy and programming, research, advocacy, and activism. Men are key partners in prevention and supporting well-being in families and communities. While studies show most partner violence is perpetrated by men against women, only a small percentage of men overall perpetrate violence and most men do not condone violence, and many want to help, but do not know how.

In October and November 2021, a group of DFS team members representing Adult & Aging, Children, Youth, and Families, Domestic and Sexual Violence Services and Public Assistance and Employment Services– both supervisory and non-supervisory attended a training series entitled “Dear Black Male” sponsored by the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). The four-session series shared the history and culture of African Americans and other men of color with a focus on understanding and demystifying negative cultural archetypes of Black men in America. Through lecture and discussion, participants:

  • Developed an understanding of the importance of the role of the historian in interpreting African American history.
  • Expanded their knowledge and awareness of the disproportionality of Black males who are institutionalized and the impact it has on communities
  • Learned the most common mistakes professionals make when working with Black males and how to avoid them; and
  • Engaged in dialogue to identify strengths-based practices and interventions that foster family health and resilience.

The training sessions are described below:
  • Session 1 – Historical Overview: reviewed the history of race and racism in the United States and discussed how historical, social, political, institutional, and cultural factors contribute to, legitimize, and maintain racial inequities.
  • Session 2 – Media’s Portrayal of African Americans: examined media’s historical impact on the misrepresentation and over criminalization of African Americans and how false narratives of racial difference marginalize and exclude communities of color leading to negative real-world consequences.
  • Session 3 – Mass Incarceration of African American Males: examined how the Law-and-Order political strategy directly affected minority communities and households and how many communities attempted to benefit economically from mass incarceration by using prisons as a strategy for economic growth.
  • Session 4 – Mental Health and the Family: discussed the history and culture of African Americans and analyzed how cultural and intergenerational trauma have shaped the identity and contemporary impact to the perceived self-value of men of color and the challenges they face.

Following each session of the training series, participating DFS team members participated in round table discussions about how the information shared related to the work we do at DFS. We walked away with an understanding that it is necessary to approach male engagement with humility and recognize that the lived experience of everyone – while unique – is shaped by the historical cultural context and contemporary discourse of gender, men, and masculinity. There is a specific focus on how the cultural context shapes the narratives and impacts men of color.

The Department of Family Services is a reflexive organization; we digest new information, examine how this learning impacts the community, consider these issues through the lens of our mission, vision, and values, and transparently consider how we examine our policies and practice to improve our community engagement and customer service.

The DFS team who participated in this training committed to participating in ‘Engaging Men Workgroup’ to consider how this learning and additional research – supported by One Fairfax – should shift our paradigm in addressing the needs of men who approach the department with needs as caregiver, provider, protector, and problem solver for their family system. Fundamentally, we wanted to explore a question: As a social services agency serving a diverse population, what do we need to do differently to engage with men as caregivers of children and adults?

Team members worked diligently to add to the learning by participating in a literature review that helped us examine men in the context of the services offered by DFS. Workgroup members deconstructed ‘maleness’ in society and why it’s important to the work of DFS and our work with men of color who seek our services. The literature reminds us that “while some men of color find strength and stature by adhering to traditional masculine norms, these traits can be obstacles to their mental and physical well-being. Even when help is available, the norms surrounding manhood become barriers to men of color who are reluctant to seek help.

The findings show that self-reliance may be detrimental to mental health and is linked to depression” (Wadley, 2020). Our responsibility as an agency is to create space for men of color to be vulnerable and to seek our services without fear of stigma or shame. Men of all backgrounds hold a variety of roles in the context of family; as fathers, men have the responsibility to enrich the lives of their families, and their children. Fathers are more likely to be engaged when expectation, opportunities, and encouragement are present. In our work with fathers there needs to be an expectation that the father is involved, as appropriate, at all points of our professional engagement. Families and communities expect the male to be dutifully involved, however when there is disruption in the expected course of family events; separations, homelessness, family violence, intimate partner violence, economic stress, change in health status, change in caregiver roles, etc., men may need to be supported to attend to these tangible and emotional changes through the services offered by DFS and the broader network of health and human services providers.

Given these identified challenges, the group thoughtfully considered how DFS can improve our approach to male engagement and shape our service delivery system to engage and support our men and boys who receive our services. During this process, the group identified a variety of positive ways that DFS currently engages men such as: The work of the Fatherhood Engagement Unit to support and promote the importance of fathers in Fairfax County. The work of DSVS to engage men and boys as allies in gender-based violence prevention. The use of communication tools such as the website, newsletters, and social media to portray the diversity of men positively engaged with our programs.

Recognizing these successes there is still much work to be done. The workgroup proposes five goals for the department to take to provide more supportive engagement practices at the intersection of masculinity, race, and socio-economic status.

The workgroup recommends that the Department of Family Services Equity Team and the Senior Management Team consider adding these goals to the equity impact plan and include elements of this narrative in future iterations of the DFS Strategic Framework, that DFS divisions incorporate elements of this narrative into their work plans, and that we fully examine our approach to customer service toward men in all aspects of our service delivery system for both internal and external customers.

Data on men and boys served by the Department of Family Services highlights two distinct disproportionalities that impact male engagement, particularly engagement of males of color.

Men in the workforce The percentage of male clients served by DFS differs depending on the program of interest. For example, in FY2021, 37% (n=11,973) of clients served by the Adult and Aging were male. In FY2021, 80% (n=75) clients served by the ADAPT (Anger & Domestic Abuse Prevention & Treatment Program) program were male. While the percentage of males served in each program can vary greatly, the percentage of males in the DFS workforce is disproportionately small. Males make up just 13% (n=1021) of the DFS workforce. Representation matters, particularly when men seeking services are required to participate. With a small percentage of the DFS workforce being males, it can be difficult for male clients to find staff that they can relate to and who can understand male-specific needs and circumstances.

The percentage of males of color served by DFS differs depending on the program of interest. It is important to note that, in most programs analyzed, males of color are overrepresented. In all programs analyzed, white males were underrepresented.

Men Receiving Services
  Males in Fairfax County by race/ethnicity (CY2020, n=570,272) Males served by Adult and Aging by race/ethnicity (FY2021, n=4,430) Males served by Child Protective Services referrals by race/ethnicity (FY2021, n=7,510) Males served by Employment Services by race/ethnicity (FY2021, n=314) Males served by the ADAPT program by race/ethnicity (FY2022, n=75)) 
African American or Black 10% 16% 15% 28% 11%
Asian 19% 21% 9% 36% 11%
Hispanic 16% 4% 36% 7% 43%
White 60% 41% 57% 26% 16%


To highlight a few points, African American or Black males make up 10% of all males in Fairfax County, yet they account for 16% of males served by Adult and Aging and 28% of males involved with Employment Services. Asian males make up 19% of all males in Fairfax County and yet they account for 36% of all males served in employment services. Hispanic males make up 16% of all males in Fairfax County and yet they account for 36% of all males served by Child Protective Services and 43% of all males served by the ADAPT program. On the other hand, White males make up 60% of all males in Fairfax County and yet make up 26% of all males served in employment services and just 16% of all males served by the ADAPT program. Males in need of DFS services are disproportionately males of color.

  • Goal 1. Improve the delivery of supportive services by increasing staff understanding of attending to masculinity, race, and socioeconomic status in the provision of services
    • Objective 1.1 Develop and implement a positive statement about the type of environment DFS is cultivating in attending to men of color who seek DFS services
    • Objective 1.2 Enhance the onboarding experience to include information about the DFS Equity Statement and commitment to addressing institutional racism to support the safety, health, and wellness of clients who seek our services
  • Goal 2. In all service and program areas seek opportunities at the micro-, meso-, and macro- system levels to identify and implement strategies that build on the role men have as violence interrupters at home and in communities.
  • Goal 3. Engage staff to assess implicit bias in all contact with men of color who seek DFS services.
    • Objective 3.1 Assess the availability of, and interest in, training opportunities for DFS staff in reducing racial bias and improving inclusion.
    • Objective 3.2 Hold Implicit Bias training for DFS Supervisors and staff to help identify how implicit bias shows up in our work.
    • Objective 3.3 Review communication materials for inclusive language and photos demonstrating the positive aspects of male caregivers.
  • Goal 4. Implement practices to support health and wellness in the provision of services
    • Objective 4.1 Develop practices for attending to the mental health of men and the stressors they face.
  • Goal 5. Promote Human Services careers to men of color.
    • Objective 5.1 Raise awareness about the disparity in representation in the human services field and the value of having men as social care providers and leaders.
    • Objective 5.2 Continue to strengthen hiring and recruitment practices to attract and cultivate diverse candidates, particularly men of color, seeking a career in human services.

A common theme in our research is how men, particularly men of color, internalize society’s expectations of protector and provider and do not seek help or support when needed. The impact of cultural and intergenerational racial trauma exacerbates stressors for men of color and research shows this leads to negative impacts on their health and wellness. We can make a positive impact on the lives of men and boys of color and the communities in which they live, by elevating the DFS values to recognize that the people we serve are the experts in their own lives and meeting them where they are. By attending to men of color in an unbiased way, we can better support engagement leading to increased economic opportunity and wellbeing. By ensuring our messages and materials are welcoming, we can improve our engagement with men of color and their families.

As a social services agency serving a diverse population, we need to engage differently with men who seek our services as caregivers of children and adults. We ask the DFS Senior Management Team to integrate the recommended equity practices across the department. By focusing our lens on men of color and operationalizing these recommendations into our work, we will reduce silos in our practice and see our fellow teams as experts in their work to support the client’s needs.

Membership in this workgroup represented a cross section of all DFS divisions and the DFS human resources office.

Michael A. Becketts, Director, Director’s Office

Champana Bernard, Father Engagement Supervisor, Children, Youth & Families

Jonathan Bell, Supervisor, Adult & Aging Services

Alycia Blackwell, Deputy Director, Director’s Office

Arrika Freeman, Social Services Specialist, Children, Youth & Families

Bennie Herron, Father Engagement Specialist, Children, Youth & Families

Farihah Kuraishi, Human Services Worker, Public Assistance and Employment & Training

Andrea Nunes-Gardner, Social Services Specialist Supervisor, Domestic and Sexual Violence Services

Ricardo Sanchez, Social Services Specialist, Domestic and Sexual Violence Services

LaDonna Sanders, Social Services Specialist Supervisor (Protection and Preservation Services), Children, Youth & Families

Daphne Saunders-Johnson, Social Services Specialist – (Foster Care and Adoptions), Children, Youth & Families

Jeanne Veraska, Sr. Social Service Specialist Supervisor, Children’s Services Act

Robyn Walden, DFS Human Resource Director, Director’s Office

Sarah Young, Management Analyst, Children’s Services Act

Sandra Zacharias, Human Services Worker (Bridges to Success/SNAPET), Public Assistance and Employment & Training

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