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What About the Dads? Child Welfare Agencies' Efforts to Identify, Locate, and Involve Nonresident Fathers

Publication Date

Most foster children are not living with their fathers at the time they are removed from their homes. Once in foster care, these children may experience even less contact with their nonresident fathers. This study sought to assess typical child welfare practice with respect to nonresident fathers of children in foster care. The study also examined the potential utility of expanding the use of child support enforcement data sources in these efforts. Local agency caseworkers were interviewed by phone about nearly 2000 children in foster care in four study states (Arizona, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Tennessee) to examine front-line practices related to nonresident fathers. The study documents that nonresident fathers of children in foster care are not often involved in case planning efforts, and nearly half were never contacted by the child welfare agency. By not reaching out to fathers, caseworkers may overlook potential social connections and resources that could help to achieve permanency for the child.

ASPE Issue Brief (in PDF format)

Research Summary (in PDF format)

Executive Summary (in PDF format)

The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of many individuals. First, we wish to thank state child welfare and child support officials for their support and cooperation throughout the study-Janice Mickens, Dave Graham, Bill Aldrich, Nick Espadas, and Teresa Coffman in Arizona; Mia Alvarado, Mary Kennedy, Kathleen McCarthy, and Mary Cummings in Massachusetts; Dorothy Renstrom, Erin Sullivan-Sutton, Alexandra Beutel, and Mary Arveson in Minnesota; and Paul Montebello, John Brown, Deborah Vines, and Jason Johnson in Tennessee. Most importantly, we wish to thank the hundreds of front-line caseworkers in the four states as well as the local child welfare administrators who provided their time and input to this study.


Our subcontractor, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), had overall responsibility for the study's caseworker data collection. NORC staff members, Dennis Dew and Lauren Doerr, provided exceptional direction and management of the caseworker telephone interviews.

In addition to the authors, several current and former Urban Institute staff contributed to the study. Dr. Freya Sonenstein contributed to the overall study design and early direction of the study. Henry Chen was invaluable in conducting the many statistical analyses throughout the study. Drs. Matthew Stagner, Elaine Sorensen, and Marla McDaniel provided substantive and editorial contributions.

We also wish to express our thanks to our Federal Project Officers, Laura Feig Radel and Linda Mellgren, for their invaluable oversight and input throughout the course of the study.


Material contained in this publication is in the public domain and may be reproduced, fully or partially, without permission of the Federal Government. The courtesy of attribution is requested. The recommended citation is as follows:

Malm K., Murray J. and Geen R.  What About the Dads?  Child Welfare Agencies’ Efforts to Identify, Locate and Involve Nonresident Fathers.  (Washington, D.C.:  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, 2006).