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April 2003Vol. 4, No. 3Literature Review Explores Non-Custodial Fathers' Involvement in Child Welfare

Recent shifts in marriage and child-bearing patterns, and increasing incarceration rates, have translated into more children living apart from their biological fathers. Many of these children eventually become involved in the child welfare system and foster care. A recent literature review by the Urban Institute, however, reveals a critical lack of existing research about non-custodial fathers (biological fathers who do not live with their children) and their relationships with their children involved in the child welfare system.

Despite a general lack of available research, the review did highlight a few promising efforts to identify, locate, and involve non-custodial fathers in child welfare cases, including:

  • State child welfare agencies working in conjunction with child support enforcement programs to find fathers using the Federal Parent Locator Service, as authorized by the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act.
  • Recipients of Model Court project grants from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention focusing on establishing paternity and locating absent parents as ways to expedite permanency for children.
  • Programs for incarcerated parents that empower non-custodial fathers to take responsibility for their children.

No rigorous evaluations have yet been conducted to assess whether these efforts lead to positive outcomes for children.

This literature review sets the stage for a 3-year study being conducted by the Urban Institute, to determine the extent to which child welfare agencies identify, locate, and involve non-custodial fathers in case decision-making and permanency planning.

The literature review is available on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, at

Related Items

For more about the role of fathers, see the following articles in previous issues of Children's Bureau Express:

  • "National Fatherhood Group Examines Statistical Trends in U.S. Families" (June 2002)
  • "LONGSCAN Examines Fatherhood" (April 2002)