This review summarizes existing literature and knowledge about non-custodial fathers and their relations with children involved in the child welfare system. It sets the stage for a three-year study being conducted by the Urban Institute and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) to provide the Federal Government with a description of the extent to which child welfare agencies identify, locate, and involve non-custodial fathers in case decision making and permanency planning. Non-custodial fathers are biological fathers who do not reside with their children usually because of divorce, separation or a non-marital birth. Increased interest in fathers and acknowledgement of their contributions to family stability and children’s healthy development have focused attention in the child welfare field on the tasks of locating biological fathers and involving them in case planning.
To complete this review we conducted an exhaustive search of literature and materials about fathers and child welfare services. Although we focused our search on research and literature specific to fathers and the child welfare system, more general topics related to fatherhood, non-custodial fathers, paternity establishment, and child support were also reviewed. Preliminary work included use of Internet and literature search engines, including Google, Yahoo, Altavista, Lexis Nexis, PsycINFO, Social Sciences Citation Index, and Sociological Abstracts, to identify scholarly research studies and publications related to our topics of interest. Bibliographies of published and unpublished documents were reviewed to identify additional resources. We searched a wide variety of government, higher education institutions, non-profit and for-profit organizations, and foundation web sites1 in order to identify a variety of resources including funded programs and research and evaluation reports of fatherhood programs. Throughout the literature review, we held numerous discussions with experts2 in the fields of child welfare and fatherhood issues, and we identified additional sources of information to pursue. All resource materials reviewed are presented in an annotated bibliography included as Appendix A.
In addition, this review includes preliminary results from an Urban Institute study on relative caregiving funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.3 The study is designed to provide information on how child welfare agencies identify and recruit relatives to care for children needing out-of-home placement, how workers make decisions about placing children with their relatives, and the service needs of relative caregivers. Focus groups of workers and supervisors included discussions of diligent search efforts for fathers and how paternity establishment affects the use of paternal relatives as placement resources.
The review is organized around a number of pressing questions that policy makers interested in child welfare services would like answered. For each of the following questions we summarize current knowledge and identify information gaps.
- What are the recent trends in children’s family living arrangements and what has been the policy response to these trends?
- How do the trends in non-custodial fatherhood affect families served by child welfare agencies?
- How many children in foster care have non-custodial fathers?
- What child welfare policies and practices affect the involvement of non-custodial fathers?
- What are the barriers to father involvement in case planning?
- Are child welfare systems biased against non-custodial fathers?
- What special conditions affect unmarried non-custodial fathers?
- What barriers do fathers face in establishing paternity?
- Do mothers pose barriers to non-custodial father involvement?
- What are the potential effects of father involvement in case planning?
- What are the effects of non-custodial father involvement on child well being?
- What are the effects of non-custodial father involvement on children involved in the child welfare system?
- What promising practices are currently being implemented to identify, locate, and involve non-custodial fathers in child welfare cases?