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Gary Dick, PhD, uses his years of social work practice in the Greater Cincinnati community to inform his ongoing research into the family unit. His research interests include fatherhood, domestic abuse, family violence, child welfare training and homeless veterans.
In 2000 he developed the Fatherhood Scale, an instrument for social workers to assess the type of relationship an individual had with their father while growing up. The scale can also assist with treatment planning and help adults identify and work through unresolved and conflictual issues they may have had with their fathers.
Dick, an associate professor of social work, has also developed a new instrument, the Paternal Engagement scale, to measure the level of a father’s involvement with his children. Currently, he’s writing a book on social work practice with veterans, examining the latest research and intervention methods that are most effective in treating veterans. He works in collaboration with Brad Shafer, a social worker who has spent years working with homeless veterans in Cincinnati.
What brought you to UC? "Prior to coming to UC full time, I worked in the community as a social worker. But I spent 16 years of that as an adjunct instructor at UC, so I was familiar with the School of Social Work, having taught, by, then, over 16 different courses.
"In the community, I worked for the Children’s Home of Cincinnati, working with adolescents who had been emotionally disturbed and had behavioral and mental health problems, or had experienced abuse and neglect. The latter five years of my career in the community, I was director of the Children’s Homes Training Institute, so I had that practice experience and I also had the administrative and training experience as well." How did you get started studying fatherhood? "Another one of the jobs I held in the community was working in the YWCA’s men’s programs—I was a group facilitator and therapist for a batterers’ treatment group. For 10 years, I heard these guys talk firsthand about their lives and I realized that that these perpetrators were also victims. Many of them had come from abusive backgrounds, and the relationships with their fathers continued to surface as a central theme as they talked about their lives and how to manage this violence
"At the same time, I was getting my PhD from Ohio State University and I wanted to do my dissertation on men who are violent and the kinds of relationships they had with their fathers growing up. I wanted to measure their relationship with their fathers, but there was no existing scale, so I developed my own. That became the Fatherhood Scale."
What does the Fatherhood Scale measure? "The Fatherhood Scale is based on self-psychological theory, which would say that a warm, nurturing relationship with the father is critical to a child’s self-esteem. Previous literature had focused on several roles of the father like the breadwinner role or the moral father role, but no one had really looked at two other factors, namely, nurturing and negative fathering.
"The scale measures the impact of these different roles. It can also predict who may become violent as an adult—when we tested it using two groups of men, it can predict about 86 percent of the time who would be in the violent or non-violent group. We’ve learned that exposure to violence from their father was a huge predictor of whether a man would be violent in his own relationships.
"Since its creation, the scale has been used in over 20 studies around the world, in Turkey, Indonesia, France and Pakistan. I usually help the researchers use the scale and, for the most part, it’s been a really positive experience."
What kinds of things do you like to do outside work? "For the last several months, I’ve really been involved in my work 24/7, between helping to manage a grant with the evaluation component of the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board’s FAST TRAC Program, and working on my book about the diversity of American fatherhood.
"But I like to travel, cook and garden. I have a dog, Kai—she’s a pit bull and is the most loving and loyal dog in the world.
"I’ve been to Africa four different times, visiting my brother who worked as a missionary in Zimbabwe. Someday in the future, I’d love to develop a study abroad program for allied health students in Africa. They could perform a service learning project and really see how different social services are delivered in those countries."