There is recent evidence that some child welfare agencies, in conjunction with child support enforcement programs, are working diligently to identify and locate non-custodial fathers. The 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act both allowed and encouraged states to begin to use the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) to locate fathers and other relatives. ASFA authorized child welfare and child support enforcement agencies to request information from the FPLS to locate individuals who have or may have parental rights to a child. Interagency agreements between the agencies were also encouraged. An informational memorandum sent January 1, 1999 to state agencies administering or supervising the administration of Title IV-D and Title IV-E of the Social Security Act provided information on using the FPLS for child welfare services. In addition, the 1993 federally-mandated Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information Systems (SACWIS) being implemented by states child welfare agencies required a link to child support data.
Efforts to coordinate child welfare and child support services may offer promise. Results from an evaluation of South Carolina’s Department of Social Services’ diligent search project showed that missing parents were located in over 75 percent of the cases referred by child welfare staff, and more than half of these cases were located in less than a month. Fathers were far more likely to be the subject of the search than mothers, representing 72 percent of the total referrals. The results also showed that in 15 percent of families there were referrals to locate more than one father. This occurred both in cases involving undetermined paternity as well as families in which multiple children had different fathers. It is important to note that 10 percent of fathers were found through the prison, probation, or parole systems.
There is also some evidence of increased state level coordination between child welfare and child support agencies in a handful of states. Interviews being conducted with child welfare administrators in all 50 states by the Urban Institute have identified a few states with increased coordination. In Kansas, for example, the child support enforcement and child welfare agencies are both emphasizing the involvement of fathers, although no joint activities are currently being undertaken. In addition, Wisconsin’s child support agency has hired paternity specialists who are available to child welfare workers to assist in identifying and locating non-custodial fathers (Bess, Andrews, Jantz, & Russell, forthcoming).
During the Urban Institute’s study of kinship care, some agencies reported that, with the increased focus on kinship care placements, specialized units have been created specifically to search for relatives, including non-custodial fathers. In other agencies, no special unit was created, yet individual caseworkers had access to the welfare agency’s data system to help locate non-custodial fathers and other relatives. It is important to note, however, that very few of the local child welfare administrators interviewed had implemented using the Federal Parent Locator System to locate non-custodial fathers. In fact, some administrators were unaware that this resource could be utilized by the child welfare system.
Other examples of promising new approaches are communities receiving Model Court project grants from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Mentaberry, 1999). Some of these communities are implementing innovative approaches to expediting permanency for children, including projects that focus on paternity establishment and locating absent parents as primary goals. Responsible fatherhood programs and programs for incarcerated parents also provide examples of some potentially promising practices. Programs focused on prisoners, such as “Long Distance Dads” implemented by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, address the needs of incarcerated fathers. This program is a 12-week program designed to promote fatherhood and empower fathers to assume responsibility for their children both during and after incarceration. Other promising models include the F.A.C.T. Program in Kentucky, a collaborative effort between Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky and the Blackburn Correctional Complex. This program teaches fathers who are incarcerated responsible parenthood and abuse prevention, with graduates of the program entitled to special visits with their children in less restrictive environments. Another program entitled Papas and Their Children (PATCH) has been developed in San Antonio, Texas. This is a weekly program facilitating participatory activities between children and their incarcerated fathers at several State jails.
In our preliminary review of responsible fatherhood programs, we found two programs with components that may address child abuse and neglect. A fatherhood program in Hawaii is providing parenting skills for fathers in families identified as at risk for child abuse and neglect. The participating fathers are being served by a Healthy Start child abuse prevention program. In Chicago, Illinois, the Paternal Involvement Project has been a strong advocate for fathers since 1992 and was instrumental in drafting legislation that created the state’s first Non-custodial Parent Services Unit.16 The group is currently participating in a pilot project with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in an effort to promote non-custodial fathers as custodial alternatives to mothers who are unable to care for children (Jeffries, Menghraj, & Hairston, 2001).
Our review has uncovered a few examples of promising new efforts to involve non-custodial fathers in child welfare case planning. However, as indicated, these efforts are fairly limited, and no rigorous evaluations have been conducted yet to assess whether the efforts lead to positive effects for the case outcomes.