Study of Fathers’ Involvement in Permanency Planning and Child Welfare Casework . How many children in foster care have non-custodial fathers?


It is difficult to estimate how many children in the child welfare system or in foster care, particularly, have non-custodial fathers.8 The available data suggest that the proportion is substantial. 1999 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) data reveal that 23 states reported fairly completely on the pre-foster care family situation of children in foster care. For those states in which less than 10 percent of cases have missing data,9 most report that at least half of the children come from single parent families headed by a female. The range was from a low of 37 percent in Oregon to a high of 88 percent in Maryland. Additional cases are reported to come from unmarried couple families, ranging from very few in Tennessee and Virginia to 37 percent in Vermont. Many of these families probably do not include both of the child’s biological parents. In addition, some unknown proportion of the cases from married couple families come from step-parent families (see Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1
Family Structure of emoval Family for Children in Foster Care By State, 1999*
  Family Structure
Married Couple Unmarried Couple Single Female Single Male
State Percent Percent Percent Percent
Arkansas 30.6 5.9 56.5 7.0
Connecticut 20.7 14.1 60.7 4.5
24.4 8.1 64.0 3.6
25.8 20.6 47.8 5.8
31.6 18.5 41.1 8.7
24.6 9.9 59.7 5.8
42.4 0.0 50.6 7.0
8.9 0.1 87.8 3.2


25.2 10.0 60.6 4.2
25.2 13.3 56.3 5.3
41.4 6.3 46.5 5.8
New Hampshire
15.0 7.6 72.9 4.5
North Carolina
24.9 12.8 58.2 4.2
North Dakota
28.9 5.6 57.4 8.1
39.6 12.9 42.7 4.8
36.7 22.7 37.2 3.5
South Carolina
26.1 12.2 56.7 5.1
South Dakota
23.2 16.3 53.9 6.6
29.4 4.8 59.8 6.0
18.2 30.0 47.0 4.9
8.9 36.5 47.7 7.0
35.8 4.9 54.1 5.1
West Virginia
33.5 9.3 49.8 7.4

Source:  Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), Foster Care Data, Version 1, 1999.

Notes: States included in chart contain 10% or fewer cases that are missing or unable to determine on the caretaker family structure variable.

* Removal family refers to adult caretakers from whom the child was removed for the current foster care episode.

Individual states have also collected statistics, although their generalizability is severely limited. Data from 10 California counties indicate that single-parent families accounted for 79 percent of both child abuse and neglect reports and investigations, as well as 83 percent and 84 percent of case openings and foster placements, respectively (Needell, 1999). Data from a study of 450 foster care children in a large county in Southeastern Florida indicate that only 10 percent of the cases include either the child’s biological father or a paternal relative residing in the household from which the child had been removed (Rittner, 1995).

There are some data available, although limited, on the percent of children in the child welfare system for whom paternity is established. Two studies — the National Study of Protective, Preventive, and Reunification Services (NSPPRS) and the Urban Institute’s National Survey of America’s Families (NSAF) provide information on the degree to which paternity is established. The 1994 NSPPRS data indicate that paternity was known, although not necessarily established, in approximately 80 percent of child welfare cases.10 Recent NSAF data (1999) show that the father was legally identified in 80 percent of public kinship families, but identified in only 55 percent of non-kin foster care families. The relatively low rate of father identification for non-kin foster care families may be related to the fact that the respondent was probably the foster mother, and she may not have known about the child’s paternity status.11 This evidence suggests that although the proportion of child welfare cases with a non-custodial father is high, many of these fathers have been identified and are therefore potentially available for involvement in case planning.