• June 2022
  • Vol. 23, No. 5

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Learning How to Engage Dads and Paternal Relatives in Child Welfare: The Fathers and Continuous Learning in Child Welfare Project

Written by Matthew Stagner, project director on the FCL Project and vice president at Mathematica, and Roseana Bess, deputy project director on the FCL project and principal researcher at Mathematica

Evidence suggests that positive father involvement can improve a range of well-being outcomes for children. Father involvement is also associated with reduced likelihood of entry into foster care, shorter periods of time in foster care, and increased rates of reunification.

Despite the potential for positive impacts of father involvement, systematic reviews of strategies to engage fathers and paternal relatives in child welfare cases reveal little empirical evidence to guide practice. In addition, despite increased emphasis on engaging fathers and paternal relatives, the hoped-for improvement in outcomes has not been realized. This project, entitled Fathers and Continuous Learning in Child Welfare (FCL), attempts to fill this gap and address the longstanding challenge of engaging fathers and their relatives in the child welfare system.

Mathematica and the University of Denver are conducting a project under contract with the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, within the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Office of Family Assistance and the Children's Bureau are key partners.

The project involves two phases: a pilot study and an evaluation testing the use of the Breakthrough Series Collaborative (BSC) to strengthen the engagement of fathers and paternal relatives with children involved in the child welfare system. Six improvement teams representing five state or county public child welfare agencies were recruited to participate. The BSC, developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, involves the use of Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles for rapid, small tests of change. Participating sites tracked and reported on specific measures and monitored progress and improvements over time. In addition, sites collaborated within and across sites, through learning sessions, conference calls, and other systematic means of communication for shared learning. Experts in father engagement and child welfare systems supported the sites.

Based on shared learning and small tests of change, sites developed approaches to attempt to spread change throughout their agency and partners. This work built knowledge about how collaborating with system partners and continuously using data to make improvements in engagement strategies can create a child welfare culture that thinks about and engages fathers and paternal relatives. Our evaluation, involving web surveys of staff and partners as well as site visits, will be completed in 2023 and will focus on understanding what changes have endured and possibly spread throughout the system.

This project started in September 2017 and will run through September 2023.  Two publications are currently available:
Related Item  
"Piloting Continuous Learning to Engage Fathers and Paternal Relatives in Child Welfare" (Children's Bureau Express, September 2021, Vol. 22, No. 8)


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