Adolescent Fathers Involved with Child Protection: Social Workers Speak

By Gordon, Derrick M.; Watkins, Natasha D. et al. | Child Welfare, September/October 2011 | Go to article overview

Adolescent Fathers Involved with Child Protection: Social Workers Speak


Gordon, Derrick M., Watkins, Natasha D., Walling, Sherry M., Wilhelm, Sara, Rayford, Brett S., Child Welfare


This study examined adolescent paternity through structured interviews with their social workers. It adds to the literature by exploring if there were young men involved with the child protection services (CPS) system who are fathers, identifying their unique needs, and beginning discussions on working with these young men. CPS social workers from six area offices and one juvenile detention facility completed surveys for each father on their caseload. A 3.5% rate of adolescent paternity was observed across these offices. Information about the nature of the young men's involvement with CPS, their involvement with their children, and their unique needs as fathers are provided. This paper also identifies some practice and policy implications for adolescent fathers and CPS charged with their care.

Approximately 408,425 children are growing up in foster care placements throughout the United States. Those committed to the care of state agencies comprise only a small portion of the 3.6 million children (duplicate) who have contact with child protection services (CPS) during the course of maltreatment investigations (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2010a, 2010b). Across the country, state and local authorities are charged with the task of ensuring safe environments and facilitating healthy development for children who come from early life environments marked by maltreatment, abandonment, tragedy, substance abuse, mental illness, and criminal behavior. In addition to the provision of basic needs, those caring for maltreated children are responsible for supporting them as they transition into adulthood, a developmental process that can be significantly complicated by the adverse effects of maltreatment (Cicchetti & Totti, 2005; Wald & Martinez, 2003).

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is further complicated when adolescents have to manage adult responsibilities such as parenting. Despite research on the risk factors associated with adolescent paternity and the outcomes experienced by young fathers (e.g., unstable employment, low educational attainment, substance abuse), adolescent paternity is an under-identified concern (Bunting & McAuley, 2004; Guagliardo, Huang, & D'Angelo, 1999; Thornberry, Wei, Stouthamer-Loeber, & Van Dyke, 2000). WaId and Martinez (2003) identified four groups of youth at particular risk for difficulty adjusting to the individual, relational, and economic demands of adulthood: (1) youth who do not graduate from high school; (2) youth involved in the juvenile justice system; (3) young, single mothers; and (4) youth involved in the foster care system. Explicitly missing is adolescent fathers (Guterman & Lee, 2005). Many young people, particularly those from impoverished households, and those who are ethnic minorities, are likely to fall into multiple high-risk categories (Wald & Martinez, 2003).

This study focuses on adolescent males involved with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (CT DCF) who are fathers or expectant fathers. Research among adolescent females in foster care indicates that 9% become parents while in care and 50% become parents within four years of leaving care (WaId & Martinez, 2003). However, the comparable rates for young men involved in foster care have not been established.

It can be difficult to obtain solid estimates of adolescent paternity. National surveys indicate that 2-7% of male teenagers have fathered children (Pleck, Sonenstein, & Ku, 1993). Rates of adolescent fatherhood are substantially higher among high risk populations such as young people living in inner city contexts, African American youth, and young men involved with the juvenile justice system (Guagliardo et al., 1999; Thornberry, Smith, & Howard, 1997; Thornberry et al., 2000). Among urban youth, rates of adolescent paternity range from 12-24% by age 19 and up to 28% by age 20 (Guagliardo et al., 1999; Stouthamer-Loeber &Wei, 1998; Thornberry et al. …

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