2005 Jordan Institute
11, No. 1
Adapted from the Nat’l Res. Center for Foster Care and Permanency Planning (Mallon, 2003)
Sometimes we must find fathers before we can work with them. Although we should make a concerted effort to engage the fathers of all child welfare-involved children, finding the fathers of children in foster care is especially important. As Malm (2003) explains, “Not only do many of [the Adoption and Safe Families Act’s] mandates necessitate it, but anecdotal evidence also suggests that quicker, more informed permanency outcomes are likely for children in the foster care system if fathers are more consistently identified and located.”
Agencies have several resources available to them for this task. On the federal level, ASFA specifically authorized child welfare agencies to use the Federal Parent Locator Service, which is used by support enforcement programs, to find fathers and other relatives. Unfortunately, some child welfare practitioners are unaware that this resource can be used by the child welfare system (Malm, 2003).
Another promising practice is collaboration. For example, an evaluation of South Carolina’s Department of Social Services’ diligent search project, which facilitates collaboration between child welfare and child support programs, showed that missing parents were located in over 75% of the cases referred by child welfare staff; more than half of these parents were located in less than a month. Most were fathers. The evaluation also showed that in 15% of families there were referrals to locate more than one father. This occurred in cases involving undetermined paternity and in families in which children had different fathers. Ten percent of fathers were found through the prison, probation, or parole systems.
Up to this point, South Carolina’s project has focused on identifying and locating fathers primarily for the purposes of expediting the termination of parental rights, thereby hastening adoption proceedings. Few programs, with the exception of the parental involvement project in Illinois, focus attention on finding non-custodial fathers as placement resources.