Although the child welfare system has not always focused on father involvement, some changes have come about in recent years. As a result, responsible fatherhood programs have opportunities to work with child welfare agencies and related professionals to engage fathers and promote responsible fatherhood.
The mission of the child welfare system is to promote the well-being of children by ensuring safety, providing services to families that need assistance in protecting and caring for their children, and helping to arrange permanent family connections for children who are placed in foster care. When a report of suspected child abuse or neglect is received, an initial assessment and/or investigation is conducted to determine if protective services are needed. Depending on the situation, this may lead to a plan to provide services and support the family in the home, or it might result in temporary placement of the child outside the home with relatives or a foster family. If a child is placed out of the home, the goal is generally to reunify the family in approximately 12 months, depending on the severity of the situation.
Tips & Best Practices
- Fathers may need to be informed about the child welfare system. A program should take steps to identify and locate the father in cases where the child welfare system is involved, as he may be unaware of how the child welfare system works and may not know he can still see their child. In cases where the father is unavailable or cannot be reached, the father’s extended family can also play a supportive role.
- There are numerous benefits that come with identifying fathers for child welfare. Identifying fathers can help child welfare staff learn important information about the medical history of the father, and other paternal relatives that can benefit the child (for instance, helping to determine if diabetes is in the family). The child may also be eligible for certain benefits through the father, such as health insurance, survivor benefits, or child support. Identifying a father may lead to paternal relatives who could be valuable resources for permanent placement or support. Finally, identifying a father may serve as the first step toward involving him more in his child’s life.
- Fatherhood programs can take important steps to coordinating with child welfare agencies. By partnering with child welfare agencies, fatherhood programs serve as a valuable referral resource, helping men deal with issues such as a lack of financial resources, mental health issues, or substance abuse. Fatherhood program staff can help child welfare agencies meet their program goals by using their experience and knowledge staff have for understanding and communicating with men. Staff can also offer to assist with training, helping child welfare offices overcome biases they may have about working with men, show the benefits of working with fathers, and discuss ways to directly help fathers.
- Fatherhood programs can offer a variety of services which are important to the child welfare framework. For instance, fatherhood programs can encourage non-resident fathers to participate in case planning or parenting sessions, can help to identify external family support systems, can provide case management services including emotional support and barrier identification, can develop strategies to help non-resident fathers enhance communication, parenting, and co-parenting skills, and can assist with referrals to community partners.
- Children can still benefit from engaging with their non-residential fathers. Children with highly involved non-resident fathers are more likely to be discharged from foster care quicker than those with absent or less-engaged fathers. For children who are reunited with a parent already (usually the mother), higher levels of non-resident father involvement are related to a lower likelihood the child will be abused or mistreated again.
What benefits might a fatherhood program receive by working with a local child welfare agency?
Fatherhood programs who partner with child welfare agencies can ensure that welfare staff are aware of the services provided by your program and can even refer fathers to these programs. It can also help child welfare staff identify, engage, and provide appropriate services for fathers and families of children involved in the child welfare system. Finally, such a partnership can help fathers in your program understand how the child welfare system works. Consider opportunities to contract with child welfare agencies to provide direct services for fathers with children involved with the child welfare system.
What are some ways I can assess a father’s capacity to be a future caregiver for his child?
When considering a father’s role, program staff should discuss with the father what his vision is of fatherhood, including what he wants for his child’s future, and how he fits into the picture. You can inquire about his previous history caring for the child or other children, ask about his daily routine, employment, and plans for childcare, education, and physical and mental care. During this, it is also important to discuss with the child how he/she feels about establishing a relationship with the father.
Where can I find more information on engaging fathers in the child welfare system?
The Engaging Fathers Podcast Series provides three episodes on how fatherhood organizations can better engage and support fathers. Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Human Services offers Engaging Fathers, a course for county and tribal child welfare staff. It gives participants opportunities to understand internal biases they have about fathers, identify and examine barriers confronted by fathers and develop effective strategies to overcome them learn and apply legal requirements for working with fathers, and increase child safety, permanence, and well-being.