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June 2010Vol. 11, No. 5Bridging the Child Welfare System and Father-Focused Services

Both the Child and Family Services Reviews and research have highlighted the lack of engagement of nonresident fathers in the child welfare system. The Engaging Fathers project, a collaboration between the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) and Fathers and Families Center (the Center), is taking steps to bridge this gap to improve outcomes for children in Marion County, Indiana. This project, which is one of four subgrants of the National Quality Improvement Center on Non-Resident Fathers and the Child Welfare System (QIC NRF), utilizes a 20-week, peer-led support group curriculum for nonresident fathers that was developed by the QIC NRF.

The Center has a full-time male staff person onsite at the Marion County DCS office to serve as the initial contact for nonresident fathers. This person helps the project—and DCS—locate nonresident fathers and also helps the fathers who come into contact with the agency understand their cases and navigate the child welfare and court systems. Additionally, the staff person provides training and support to DCS staff about father engagement on the project.

Eligible fathers are invited to attend the 20-week peer support group and may also receive other services through the Center, such as job assistance, GED preparation, relationship counseling, and transportation. The project is currently on its ninth cohort of fathers attending support groups, with approximately two to eight fathers in each cohort. The project team reports that the support groups—in addition to providing information about parenting skills, the child welfare system, legal issues, and other areas—have helped empower the fathers and supply a much-needed support network. Within the groups, fathers share the successes and challenges that each has experienced in trying to become a more engaged father.

The collaboration between DCS and the Center has proven beneficial for the partnering organizations as well. The Center's staff have learned more about the child welfare system and are able to offer help in that area to fathers. Center staff now ask fathers whether their children are involved with the child welfare system (and are surprised by the number of fathers with positive responses). Similarly, DCS staff have become more familiar with fatherhood issues and the Center.

Some project funding was used to make the Marion County DCS office more father-friendly by adding an infant changing table to the men's restroom and supplying posters, brochures, and other resources that highlight the role and presence of fathers. The project also has been able to use its experience to support other organizations. For example, Casey Family Programs provided 1 year of funding to three other regions in Indiana to improve father involvement in the child welfare system. The Center has provided technical assistance about how to better involve and locate fathers and how to develop and implement an amended version of the curriculum.

Although the evaluation of the project is still preliminary, the team noted that they are aware of several fathers who attended the support group—or the paternal families—that have since received custody of their children. They also reported that DCS has been making a concerted effort to locate and engage nonresident fathers and verify information about fathers that was provided by mothers or other individuals. Although the project staff believe they have made a lot of headway in connecting the child welfare system and father-focused services, they are still amazed at how many fathers are left out of the child welfare process.

"Several project fathers have told us during their peer group meetings that they were unaware that they were to take part in their children's Family Team Meetings and various court hearings," stated Tiffany Mitchell of DCS.

The project team stresses the importance of remembering that families include fathers, even if they may not live with their children, and recognizing that including fathers in the process should not be an afterthought.

Funding for this project came through the QIC NRF, which was created in 2006 with funding from the Children's Bureau to American Humane and its partners, the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law and the National Fatherhood Initiative. As a part of this initiative, the QIC NRF funded four sites in 2008 to help determine the impact of nonresident father involvement on child welfare outcomes. In addition to the Indiana project, awards were made to projects in Fort Worth (TX), Seattle (WA), and Colorado Springs (CO).

For more information, visit the QIC NRF website:

Many thanks to Tiffany Mitchell of the Indiana Department of Child Services and Robert Ripperger and James Melton of Fathers and Families Center for providing the information for this article.

Related Item

Children's Bureau Express first wrote about the QIC NRF in "Engaging Dads: The National QIC on Non-Resident Fathers and the Child Welfare System" in the February 2008 issue.