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

12/01/2006

  • Search for fathers early in the case. Most successful information gathering about a nonresident father's identity and location occurs very early in the case. If a nonresident father's identity and location are not determined quickly, it becomes unlikely that he will ever be contacted by the agency.
  • Consult a wide variety of information sources in order to identify and locate fathers. Study results showed that no single information source (other than the child's mother) was likely to consistently provide contact information for the father. However, many different sources provided information occasionally, and taken together most fathers could be located. Yet which sources were consulted seemed haphazard and rarely were searches exhaustive. Caseworkers need to know what steps they should consider when mothers do not know or share information about the child's father.
  • Make better use of state and federal parent locator services. In most places, caseworkers would benefit from better access to location information available from the child support agency. These agencies are specialists in locating nonresident parents, and child welfare agencies are explicitly authorized to use their services to locate parents of children in foster care. More systematic use of child support locate services may also make searches more focused and less time consuming to caseworkers. But caseworkers and agency administrators should be aware that in most places, unless a referral is presented as a "locate only" request, the child support agency will follow up with case actions to establish paternity and put a child support order in place. Child welfare agencies should carefully consider when such a full range of child support actions is in the child's interests, and under what circumstances a "locate only" request would better serve the child.
  • Assess safety issues individually. Caseworkers and administrators express sincere and legitimate concerns about the safety of the children and mothers they work with, as well as for their own safety, when dealing with fathers with histories of violence. Such concerns must be acknowledged and assessed at the case level. However, the fact that nearly half of the fathers were never contacted by the agency suggests that fathers are often excluded without an assessment of the actual risk presented.
  • Consider a range of ways nonresident fathers could be involved in the lives of children in foster care. Unless the child has a case plan goal of placement with his or her father or paternal kin, caseworkers may not know what, if anything, their agencies expect of them with regard to involving nonresident fathers. In the cases studied, sharing the case plan was the only consistent activity that followed from contact with a child's father. Caseworkers may offer visitation to the father in some cases but there was no consistent understanding regarding when or whether visitation should be offered or encouraged. Less intensive forms of involvement such as obtaining the father's medical background and obtaining access to benefits do not seem routine. There is considerable room for improvement in activities that engage nonresident fathers on behalf of their children in ways that could extend beyond the child's stay in foster care and support whatever permanency goal is in the child's best interest.

The full report What About the Dads?  Child Welfare Agencies Efforts to Identify, Locate, and Involve Nonresident Fathers, is available at http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/06/CW-involve-dads/index.htm.

Endnote

1. We categorized workers according to their responses to two opinion questions: caseworkers who "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that (1) nonresident fathers want to be part of the decision-making process with regard to their children, and (2) involvement of nonresident fathers enhances a child's well-being. Workers who responded "neither agreed or disagreed," "disagreed," or "strongly disagreed" with both of the statements were grouped together.

 

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