Abstract: The Roles of Shame and Guilt in Father Involvement with Children with Special Needs (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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688P The Roles of Shame and Guilt in Father Involvement with Children with Special Needs

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Kai Chung LO, PhD Candidate, Assistant Lecturer (Practice Consultant), The University of Hong Kong, Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong
Background and Purpose:

Men often tend to hide emotions while facing different life challenges. With the influence of cultural orientation and the masculine idea of Asian Chinese fathers rearing children with special needs, according to the literature, shame and guilt are probable causal emotions that affect fathers’ motivation and reaction behaviors and thus that impact father involvement, but studies on their implications are rare. This study aims to explore the roles of these emotions in the psychosocial mechanisms of father involvement with children with special needs.

A model is proposed to understand the roles that moral emotions play in affecting fathers’ involvement in their family system. The interaction between severity of child’s special needs and father involvement is believed to be influenced by these emotions. These feelings are commonly triggered by the children’s behavior, which is elicited by certain characteristics of the different types of special needs, such as: rigidity of children with autism spectrum disorder, impulsivity of children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder and poor self-management of children with intellectual disability.


This study adopted the qualitative individual in-depth interview method. Fifteen fathers, who rearing children of 2-12 years old with special needs, were interviewed. In the trial stage of the study, participants were widely recruited from social services centers, self-help groups serving children with special needs, kindergarten, primary and special schools in Hong Kong. Those were from diverse education, social status, age, and experience in rearing children. Different from the typical life history narrative methods, researchers suggested participants to express their mixed feelings through indications of a weather graph in the stage of imagination, diagnosis, and adaptation. This method significantly reflected the limitation of men to voice out their moral emotions in rearing children with special needs under the influence of Chinese traditional culture.

Interviews were transcribed and coded thematically by using Hyper Research qualitative software, guided by the principles of phenomenological interviewing and inductive approach to qualitative analysis.


The qualitative data analysis reveals that the rise of shame and guilt in fathers and the influence of masculinity then leads to both positive and negative behaviors, especially compensation and avoidance involving the fathers’ feelings and actions toward their special needs children. The mixed emotions of shame and guilt are intensified by the interactions between the fathers and the behaviors of their children with special needs. The correlations between shame and guilt and the effects that those emotions have on the level of father involvement for this population.

Conclusion and Implications:

Pressure for parental support for children with special needs has recently drawn attention in the social work professions. Fathers who are primary caregivers but mostly function as the breadwinners in a family, often have limited involvement in raising their children. The findings of this study with regard to psychosocial implications enable fathers of children with special needs to better process their emotions of guilt and shame, and it helps them have a positive impact on the lives of their children with special needs.