Child Welfare Casework With Nonresident Fathers of Children in Foster Care. Engaging Fathers

12/01/2006

In slightly over half of all cases (55%), the nonresident father had been contacted by the agency or worker. Contact was broadly defined to include in-person contact, telephone calls, or through written or voicemail communication. Contact was likely only if the father's identity and location were both known at the time of case opening. Caseworkers reported having at least one contact with 80% of nonresident fathers when this information was available immediately. However, the likelihood of contact dropped to 38% for fathers whose identity was known either at case opening or during the first month, but for whom location information was not immediately available. For fathers identified more than 30 days after case opening, the likelihood of contact was only 13%. Figure 3 summarizes information on contact with nonresident fathers depending on when their identities and locations became known to the worker.

Figure 3.
Likelihood of Agency Contact with the Child's Father by Time of Identification and Location

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Several circumstances make it hard to contact fathers. The most frequently reported circumstance that affected contact with the father was his being unreachable by phone (60%). One third of fathers (31%) were incarcerated at some point in the case, although it was noted as causing difficulty with contact in only about half of these cases. Other circumstances  such as unreliable transportation, homelessness or unstable housing, and being out of the country  were less frequent problems but caused greater difficulty with agency-father contact when they did occur. The relationship between the mother and nonresident father also affects agency contact with the father. Fathers in relationships perceived by the caseworker as hostile, as well as fathers who hardly ever or never talk to the mother, were less likely to have had contact with the agency.

Half of the nonresident fathers contacted expressed interest in having their children live with them (50% of contacted fathers or 28% of the entire sample.) However, the caseworkers considered them as placement resources in somewhat fewer cases. Caseworkers report a wide range of circumstances and problems that are likely to complicate any efforts to place the child in the home of his or her father, and some administrators seemed to favor paternal kin over fathers as a placement resource. However, administrators reported that even if a father cannot provide a home for the child, he might still offer tangible benefits such as financial support or critical knowledge of his medical history.

Many nonresident fathers have multiple problems and do not often follow through when services are offered. Workers reported that many of the contacted fathers (42%) had 4 or more of the 8 problems listed in the survey. (The survey asked about substance abuse, prior findings of abuse/neglect, unemployment, housing problems, physical or mental health issues, domestic violence, criminal justice involvement, and lack of child care.) Caseworkers reported offering services to fathers in most of the cases (59%) but reported that few of the fathers (23%) had complied with the services offered.

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