Study of Fathers’ Involvement in Permanency Planning and Child Welfare Casework . Do mothers pose barriers to non-custodial father involvement?


Mothers may affect the level of involvement of non-custodial fathers by failing to identify fathers initially or by downplaying the father’s importance in the child’s life. Results of the focus groups being conducted with child welfare workers for the Urban Institute’s study on kinship care provide some information about how fathers are identified. Caseworkers noted that some mothers refuse to identify the child’s father until a court hearing when a judge orders it. Early casework activities focus on “engaging” the mother in terms of encouraging her to accept treatment and take advantage of required services. While identifying the father is also a concern, workers may hesitate to reach out to the father if they think that the mother will be hostile. In addition, as the earlier discussion of domestic violence indicates, workers may be concerned that a mother’s reluctance to identify a father may be caused by fears about safety. The opinion of the child, depending upon the child’s age, will also be respected and considered by the caseworker. Caseworkers must often balance the competing demands of the child and mother with the requirements of policy and practice.

Mothers may act as “gatekeepers” either facilitating or blocking access to the father. Studies examining paternity establishment have noted the importance of the mother’s cooperation in identifying and locating the biological father. Additionally, the relationship between the father and mother, as well as the custody arrangement, can affect the frequency of involvement of the non-custodial father in his child’s life (Minton & Pasley, 1996; Seltzer, 1998). A recent evaluation of the Parents’ Fair Share Program15 found that low-income fathers were often frustrated in their efforts to be better parents by the custodial mothers (Miller & Knox, 2001). Other studies of two-parent families have also examined maternal gatekeeping in terms of the conditions necessary for fathers and mothers to work as equal partners in caring for their homes and families (Allen & Hawkins, 1999; De Luccie, 1995).

Mothers may hesitate to notify authorities about the whereabouts of the father because of concerns that he might get in trouble with the law because he has outstanding child support payments, is an undocumented immigrant, or has outstanding arrest warrants. Relatives may also hesitate before providing this information. Relative caregivers participating in the focus groups on kinship care noted that they were reluctant to provide this information. This was either because of repercussions to them if the father determined that they had notified authorities, or because the father is in no position to provide child support (e.g., father is unemployed).