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2005 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 11, No. 1
December 2005

Forgetting Fathers

This article is adapted from material that first appeared in Best Practice/Next Practice (Summer 2002), the newsletter of the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice.

Daniel was 3 and Dawn was 4 when their mother took them and disappeared.

Her estranged husband, a limousine driver, searched obsessively for his children. He posted rewards, enlisted help from a retired police officer, and hired a private detective, all to no avail.

As six years passed, he took to driving slowly through residential neighborhoods, looking for two blond children who looked like him.

“I never gave up hope,” said the father, “But it was as if they were dead.”

Instead they were in foster care. In 1991 the authorities had found the children alone in their mother’s apartment. They were emaciated and had evidently been abused.

But for three more years, through 33 court hearings, multiple foster placements, and the children’s complaints of new abuse, the foster care system failed to tell their father.

After Daniel had been placed in a foster home, his emotional trauma brought beatings, not therapy. Separated from his sister and transferred to a group residence where bigger boys routinely abused him, he began openly longing for his father.

He says the caseworker told him, “Don’t think your father is going to come and rescue you, because your father’s dead.”

In fact, the father was living nearby with a listed telephone number.

The father finally received notifications about his children as part of a routine effort to free the children for adoption.

But reunion came too late. The children had no recollection of him as their father. Dawn, 17, ran to the streets before he could win her back. Daniel had a mental breakdown and was in a therapeutic foster home.

Adapted from the “When the Foster Care System Forgets Fathers,” by Nina Bernstein, New York Times, May 4, 2000.