Academic journal article Child Welfare

Outreach to Birthfathers of Children in Out-of-Home Care

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Outreach to Birthfathers of Children in Out-of-Home Care

Article excerpt

This article presents findings from a study of casework outreach to birthparents of children in out-of-home care. The study explored whether the birthfather was being ignored as a resource for discharge planning. It examined the outreach and interventions of caseworkers in three New York City out-of-home care agencies. Casework activity levels were found to be higher for birthmothers than for birthfathers, and a complex relationship among the variables of gender, outreach, and response was revealed. The nature and value of more specific outreach toward birthfathers of children in care and the risk of ignoring men in the birthfamily system are discussed.

The appropriate role of the father is far less clearly defined in our society than that of the mother. Although the father role is now in the process of being reshaped, child welfare services may well reflect historical biases. Current foster care practice is geared toward permanency planning for children, returning them to family members, or, when that is not possible, placing them with adoptive families. Child welfare, however, has historically focused on mothers as caregivers with little attention paid to fathers.


Birthfathers and Permanency Planning

Relevant literature on permanency planning in out-of-home care emphasizes the importance of caseworkers viewing parents as partners and the value of maintaining the link between birthparents and children in care, but such literature is silent on how caseworkers should interact specifically with birthfathers [Fanshel & Shinn 1978; Hess 1987; Hess & Foleron 1991; Proche & Howard 1986; Shapiro 1976; Staff & Fein 1993]. Indeed, some of the few references in the literature to birthfathers concede that they are "forgotten" [Jaffee 1983] or "overlooked" [Kirsh & Maidman 1984]. Other references to birthfathers dismiss them as "problematic, hard-to-reach" [Jaffee 1983]. Although conceding that child welfare is "maternally focused" [Wolins 1991], child welfare literature gives little attention to an explanation or exploration of this phenomenon. Literature in other disciplines, however, reveals a fixed separation of gender specific roles in the family that has distanced fathers from their children.

The Development of Gender-Specific Family Roles

In the preindustrial United States, home and workplace were in the same place or in close proximity, and economic and social responsibility for children were evenly shared by mothers and fathers [Abramovitz 1988; Griswold 1993]. With industrialization, the economy became increasingly centralized, the workplace shifted away from the home, and the father's role changed to that of breadwinner, while the mother's became focused on child care [Abramovitz 1988]. The transformation to a market economy made cash income a necessity for most families and required men to seek paid employment outside the home, often at considerable distance. Women shouldered the unpaid family maintenance tasks formerly shared with men and assumed almost exclusive responsibility for child rearing [Abramovitz 1988; Stems 1991; Walters & Chapman 1991].

By the turn of the century, disruptions in the market economy had dramatically increased the number of women and children in desperate financial circumstances. Ensuing legislation provided some measure of assistance to destitute women and children, permitting mothers to remain at home rather than enter the workforce [Abramovitz 1988; Bane 1988; Donovan 1991; Neckerman et al. 1988]. These policies further institutionalized the role of mothers as primary caregivers. In fact, many states adopted "man in the house" regulations that denied assistance to those families in which a father or father surrogate was present, thus requiring impoverished men to leave their families to qualify them for aid [Abramovitz 1988; Neckerman et al. 1988; Patterson 1981; Ray & McLoyd 1986]. Mothers in low income families-- from which come most children in out-of-home care-became by default primarily responsible for both the financial and physical welfare of their children [Hutchison 1992]. …

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