by Douglas Howard, DCF Fatherhood Systems Coordinator
Research indicates that the unique way fathers interact with their children contributes to the healthy development of children from infancy through early adulthood (Heinrich, 2007). In recent years, the critical link between promoting responsible fatherhood and positive outcomes for children has attracted attention across the political spectrum at both national and local levels. This emerging paradigm has resulted in a community of foundations and organizations dedicated to supporting child welfare practice at both federal and local levels, and research informing a growing body of field literature, legislative, and policy enhancements. Organizations including the Administration for Children and Families, Casey Family Programs, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and American Humane are actively collaborating with child welfare jurisdictions across the country in an effort to promote and support best practices in the field of fatherhood engagement.
The Impact of Father Presence
Research indicates that children, whose biological fathers are absent, are on average 2-3 times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents (Horn & Sylvester, 2002).
|Further, communities with high levels of father absence tend to also have high rates of poverty, crime, and young men in prison (Blankenhorn, 1995; Merrill, Schweizer, Schweizer, & Smith, 1996; Popenoe, 1996).
Conversely, research suggests father presence contributes positively to the physical health, cognitive development, safety, well-being, and educational achievement of children from infancy to adulthood. Children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers (Horn & Sylvester, 2002).
In child welfare, data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect (NCANDS) and Adoption and Foster Care Analysis (AFCARS) Reporting Systems suggests that father presence contributes to lower rates of repeat maltreatment reports, shorter lengths of stay in foster care, higher reunification rates, fewer placement episodes, and greater stability in foster care (Velasquez, Edwards, Vincent and Reynolds, 2007).
Moreover, most foster children are not living with their fathers at the time they are removed from their homes (Malm, Murray, and Geen, 2006).
Connecticut has seen a steady increase in the number of children residing in single parent homes, particularly in the last decade. From 2004 to 2010 the number of Connecticut children residing in single parent homes increased by 14 percent (from 214,000 to 249,000) surpassing the national increase of 12 percent (from 21,361,000 to 24,297,000).
Dating back to 2001, comprehensive case review data and qualitative findings at both national and local levels have indicated a need for enhancing the efforts and effectiveness of child welfare organizations to engage and serve fathers. Federal findings (2001 – 2008) have consistently highlighted challenges surrounding fatherhood engagement in every child welfare jurisdiction nationally.
In 2007, the Department fully integrated the federal Child and Family Services Review model into its statewide quality improvement system via a process known as the Connecticut Comprehensive Outcomes Reviews (CCOR).
This recent innovation equipped DCF with the unique capacity to assess how the agency serves mothers, fathers and children individually according to federal practice standards. Statewide data and findings suggest that fathers are statistically less likely to have their needs assessed and services provided, be involved in case planning and receive visits of adequate quality and frequency when compared to mothers and children (CCOR Round 1 Final Report, 2011).
In concert with the Department’s ongoing efforts to support and promote healthy, thriving children and families DCF is placing emphasis on fatherhood engagement as a critical component of family centered practice. The Department’s Strengthening Families Practice Model guidance contends that the most effective way to involve both mother and fathers in the child welfare process is through visiting them in their homes and communities.
In 2009, the Department responded to the need demonstrated by a surge in father specific data and findings by including the Fatherhood Matters initiative as a component of its agency wide Program Improvement Plan.
The overarching goal of the Fatherhood Matters initiative is to promote positive outcomes for children through the meaningful involvement of fathers in child welfare services. Some key objectives have been offering data, information, and planning support to regional office staff and leadership and partnering with fathers and community providers throughout the process.
Led by Douglas Howard, the Department's Statewide Fatherhood Systems Coordinator, this step symbolizes DCF’s strategic effort to develop and implement strategies for more effectively involving fathers in the child welfare process, consistent with the Department’s mission.
At the systems level, ongoing partnerships with Casey Family Programs, the Department of Social Services, the Academy for Knowledge and Workforce Development, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, and national experts in the field of fatherhood engagement have been central to guiding the Department's fatherhood work.
A primary strategy of the agency’s efforts to more effectively engage fathers across the agency’s mandates has been emphasizing key areas of practice including engaging non-resident and incarcerated fathers. For example, despite having routine, ongoing contact with their children, non-resident fathers are seldom included in relative resource discussions and strengths and needs assessments conducted on behalf of the "family", thus limiting the scope and effectiveness of the assessment and overlooking the needs of fathers.
Some additional areas of emphasis in case practice have been:
- Early and ongoing efforts to identify locate and engage fathers in the child welfare process.
- Engaging mothers, children and kin in discussion regarding the identity of, last contact with and relationship with father.
- Assessing the needs and strengths of father(s) involved with the family as a crucial pieces to a holistic assessment of a family's risk and protective factors.
- Exploring the attitudes, perceptions and personal biases held by both agency staff and community fathers which may impact fatherhood engagement practice.
Fatherhood Engagement Leadership Teams (FELT) are being formed by regional leadership and staff to strengthen community partnerships, build on successes and lessons learned, and translate promising approaches from the field to the development and implementation of strategies for supporting practice.
What Fathers Say…
Over 80 community fathers have participated in regional Fatherhood Listening Forums statewide, many of which have volunteered to partner with DCF in planning and training activities following their participation in Listening Forums designed to learn from and better understand fathers within their cultural and community contexts.
“My participation in the meetings and trainings has been like therapy for me” said one New Britain community father and FELT Team member. “The most important thing I’ve learned is that attitudes are a two way street. Many fathers don’t want anything to do with DCF because of what they hear from other people, and some DCF workers disregard fathers” said the dad. “I’ve seen a change in fathers and DCF workers in these meetings. Fathers are more willing to share their experiences once they feel they are being heard, and DCF staff are changing because of what they hear.” “I plan to keep coming to the meetings.” (Clifton T., Telephone Interview, May 2012).
Often fathers associated their overall experience with the Department with their first contact with their social worker. Fathers often remarked positively regarding workers who "took the time to get to know me" by "coming and speaking to me." Many fathers felt misrepresented by their history and viewed face to face discussion as an opportunity to see them as more than just their history. Father’s relationship with mother emerged as the greatest predictor of father having access to his child. Over half of the fathers reported being involved in at least one other state system.
Recent Successes, Short Term Outcomes
Recent successes have been observed across offices including heightened staff interest and awareness which has contributed to the identification of staff champions in each regional office, implementing promising approaches, offering practical tools for supporting practice and forming sustainable partnerships at both community and systems levels.
At present, 9 DCF sites are engaging in strategic efforts to improve services to fathers and families.
Please contact Douglas Howard, (860-550-6321; email@example.com
) if you are interested in learning more about the Department's Fatherhood Matters Initiative. 1