Academic journal article Child Welfare

Paternal Involvement in Kinship Foster Care Services in One Father and Multiple Father Families

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Paternal Involvement in Kinship Foster Care Services in One Father and Multiple Father Families

Article excerpt

Using data from case records and from questionnaires completed by caseworkers, this article describes contact between 132 fathers of children in kinship foster care and their caseworkers over a period of 12 months, and the fathers' involvement in permanency planning for their children. The data indicate that most fathers had no contact with the caseworkers during the period under study and had never participated in planning. Analysis revealed that paternal involvement varied significantly by the child's family composition. Fathers of two or more children from a one-father family were most involved, while fathers of one child from a multiple-father family were least involved. Possible explanations for the findings are identified, and implications for practice and research are presented.

Little is known about the involvement of birthfathers in child welfare services or factors that affect paternal involvement. This lack of knowledge is remarkable, given the central role accorded parents in child welfare policy and practice. Federal policy, for example, requires state child welfare systems to attempt to keep maltreated children with their parents when the child's safety is not at serious risk and to allow birthparents to participate in permanency planning when their children are placed in out-of-home care.

The importance of working with parents in child welfare interventions is also rooted in professional values and in practice methodologies. From a value perspective, the social work profession has long supported the notion that parents who want to provide good care for their children but are experiencing difficulties deserve an opportunity to strengthen their parenting capacities through supportive services. This value is consistent with the professional understanding that capable, nurturing parents can have a substantial, positive influence on their children's developmental outcomes. Since the 1970s, the child welfare profession has advocated a family-centered approach to child welfare services that emphasizes giving first consideration to maintaining children with their birthparents when the parents appear willing and capable of providing adequate care (Pecora et al., 1992).

Practitioners have also long recognized that even those parents who cannot provide adequate care to their children may still give valuable assistance to those working in behalf of their children. This assistance may include access to financial benefits, the maintenance of a supportive relationship with the child, and, in more extreme situations, the voluntary relinquishment of parental rights so that a child may move more quickly into a permanent home. At the very least, parents are the sources of information that may be crucial to the child's current and future well-- being, such as the child's early developmental history, the child's genetic background, and resources available to the child in the extended birthfamily.

Despite the emphasis on the importance of parents, the child welfare literature rarely addresses the involvement of fathers in planning and services (O'Donnell, 1995). The literature on programs such as family preservation and family reunification often assumes that child welfare work involves two-parent families even though studies over the past two decades have found that single-parent, female-headed households constitute a large segment of the families served by child welfare agencies (Shyne & Schroeder, 1978; Pecora et al., 1992). The literature usually makes no distinction between working with mothers and fathers either in one or two-parent homes. Except for occasional descriptions of the paternal role in specific minority cultures, such as Latinos, the literature rarely suggests that fathers may react differently than mothers to social service interventions or to the role of the child welfare worker. In addition, the literature provides little discussion of the challenges of working with the significant number of unmarried and noncustodial fathers whose children have been placed in out-of-home care. …

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