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July/August 2006Vol. 7, No. 6Nonresident Fathers and the Child Welfare System

Finding and engaging nonresident fathers carries the potential for significant benefits for children in the child welfare system. When fathers are identified and involved in decisions about their children, there is the possibility for a strengthened father-child relationship, increased permanency, and access to more family information and resources.

A recent study, What About the Dads? Child Welfare Agencies' Efforts to Identify, Locate and Involve Nonresident Fathers, explored the ways that child welfare agencies in four States find and engage nonresident fathers. Findings from interviews with 1,222 caseworkers showed that:

  • More than two-thirds of nonresident fathers were identified at the time their child's case was opened.
  • Family and friends of the child were often unwilling or unable to provide information about unidentified nonresident fathers.
  • Circumstances that made it difficult to locate nonresident fathers included incarceration, homelessness, and being out of the country.
  • Half of the nonresident fathers who were contacted expressed interest in having their children live with them. Issues that sometimes prevented placement included substance abuse, involvement with the criminal justice system, and noncompliance with services.
  • More than half of contacted fathers had visited their children in foster care.
  • Caseworkers who received training on father involvement were more likely to locate fathers, use a variety of methods to find fathers, and make use of more father engagement activities than workers who had not received specialized training.

This exploratory study of nonresident fathers also examined practices and initiatives that may increase father involvement. Recommendations include:

  • Search for fathers early in the case.
  • Provide caseworker training on finding and engaging fathers.
  • Offer services designed to engage fathers.
  • Address domestic violence concerns and worker safety issues.
  • Use child support data, including data from State or Federal parent locator services.
  • Develop models for involving fathers constructively.

What About the Dads? by K. Malm, J. Murray, and R. Geen, was prepared by the Urban Institute and released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), with funding from the Children's Bureau. It is available on the ASPE website: (PDF - 820 KB)

Related Items

Children's Bureau Express ( has explored the topic of father involvement in a number of articles, including the following:

  • "Debut of Fatherhood User Manual" (this issue)
  • "Project Fatherhood" (April 2004)
  • "Positive Father-Child Involvement Found Among Early Head Start Families" (December 2003/January 2004)
  • "Literature Review Explores Non-Custodial Fathers' Involvement in Child Welfare" (April 2003)
  • "LONGSCAN Examines Fatherhood" (April 2002)