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2005 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 11, No. 1
December 2005

Study of Father Involvement in Kinship Care

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. We encourage interested readers to obtain this excellent, 40-page publication at <>

In the late 1990’s researcher John O’Donnell conducted a study to learn about casework practice with fathers of children in kinship foster care. The study gathered data through in-person interviews with 54 caseworkers responsible for services to 100 children in kinship foster care. It focused on 82 fathers whose identities were known to the workers, who were living, and whose parental rights had not been terminated. Most of the children and fathers were African American. The study found:

Workers Lacked Information about Fathers

  • They did not know the marital status of 41% of the fathers nor the housing status of 54%. (Of the 48 fathers whose marital status was known, 71% had never married and only 6% were married to the child’s mother.)

  • They had no information about the education or income of most of the fathers.

Workers Focused on Fathers’ Deficits

  • For 67% of the fathers, workers identified problems that affected the father’s ability to care for his child.

  • 50% of the time, workers said they did not know whether the fathers had any strengths for caring for their children; they stated that 15% of the fathers had no strengths.

Fathers Were Not Involved in Planning or Assessments

  • 82% of fathers had not contributed to the most recent assessment.

  • 90% had not participated in drafting the most recent service plan for the child and family. Workers saw fathers’ lack of participation as an impediment to case planning in only 16% of these cases.

Workers Did Not Talk about Fathers with Others

  • Workers had at least monthly conferences with their supervisors. In 84% of the cases, workers reported no discussions about the father with the supervisor.

  • In 83% of the cases, workers did not note any discussion about the father in their contacts with external agencies such as the juvenile court or community service providers.

Workers Often Did Not Try to Find Fathers

  • Workers typically made monthly visits to the homes of foster parents related to the father. In 61% of these cases, not a single reference to the father was made during these home visits with the fathers’ relatives, even though the worker often did not know the father’s whereabouts.

These and other findings of the study raise serious concerns about workers’ willingness and ability to work with fathers whose children are in foster care, especially minority fathers. Based on his findings, O’Donnell recommends that child welfare workers and their agencies take steps to develop workers’ knowledge about fathers and how to work with them.