14, No. 1
What Can Child Welfare Workers Do To Involve Fathers?
This article is adapted from an article that first appeared in Best Practice/Next Practice (Summer 2002), the newsletter of the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice <www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp>.
When it comes to including and serving the fathers of the children involved with child welfare, many child welfare agencies struggle. Though they think of themselves as family-centered, in truth their practice is really more “mother-and-child-centered.”
If you agree that the child welfare system falls short in this area, the next obvious question is: how can I and my agency improve our involvement of fathers? We hope the following suggestions will help you formulate an answer that ensures your practice truly includes all family members.
Engagement. Encourage mothers to identify fathers early in the case. When necessary, identify and locate fathers by interviewing relatives and family friends, accessing TANF and child support information, or using the courts.
Engage fathers in ways relevant to their situation and sensitive to their culture. Make every effort to gain the support of mothers and reduce any barriers the mother has established that prevents a father’s engagement, using mediation and negotiation if necessary.
Establish trust and honesty with the father by clearly explaining the current situation, his role, your role, agency expectations, and all relevant policies. Continually state your willingness and desire to establish and/or maintain the father-child relationship.
Use Child and Family Team meetings to bring all adults committed to the child together. Elements required for successful CFTs include strong community partnerships, appropriate meeting sites, and effective strategies for getting the right people to the table. CFTs should use an authentic family-centered decision making process in which professionals sincerely listen to the family’s ideas and patiently support them as they develop their plan rather than trying to convince them of the agency’s plan. Use of private
family time is a great tool for this.
Assessment. Comprehensive assessments include all family members; therefore, fathers and paternal family members must be an active part in the ongoing assessment process. Initial assessments should include the strengths, needs, resources/assets, and supports of the father and the paternal family, as well as services and supports needed by the father. Explore the father’s and the paternal family’s willingness and ability to contribute to the well-being of the child. The assessment process should be ongoing, with information continually gathered and regularly updated.
Safety planning. Fathers and the paternal family should be actively involved in the development of a safety plan based on information and support of everyone serving the child and family. Fathers and paternal family members should be considered as informal service providers in the safety plan—for example, as kinship placement providers or to supervise visits.
Out-of-home placement. Before placing a child in an unrelated home, fathers’ and paternal family members’ homes should be assessed for placement. Include fathers in the discussion and in determining the best placement for the child. Foster parents, group home staff, residential treatment staff, hospital staff, and adoptive parents should be encouraged and supported to build and maintain partnerships with birth or adoptive fathers. Provide supports to establish and maintain father-child relations through phone and mail contact, visitation, and case planning.
Implementation of the service plan. Fathers should be actively involved in setting goals and encouraged to express their concerns or questions about services. Create and provide services to meet the individualized needs of the father and/or paternal family. Services must be accessible to working fathers. If they are used, father support groups should address issues such as empowering men to take an active role in parenting, emotional issues, child development, and developing key skills such as active listening, anger management, positive discipline, and basic parenting techniques.
Permanency planning. Fathers should be involved in all reviews of the service plan and in the development of the child’s permanency plan. Workers must ensure that fathers understand the permanency plan and emphasize the importance of the father’s role in the development and implementation of the plan. Fathers must not only receive court notices regarding permanency hearing, but workers should contact them to discuss the hearing and the agency’s recommendations to the court. During this discussion workers should encourage fathers to attend all hearings.
Re-evaluation of the service plan. Workers should include fathers in the sharing of information between other family members, children, support teams, and service providers to ensure that intervention strategies can be modified as needed to support positive outcomes. Fathers can help monitor service provision and provide feedback so progress and modifications to services are made.