Find out more: Click here to learn more about the QIC NRF.

In 2008, The National Quality Improvement Center for Non-Resident Fathers and the Child Welfare System (QIC NRF) awarded sub-grants to projects in four states for fatherhood classes for nonresident fathers whose children have been removed from their homes. One of the four sub-grants was awarded to the Center on Fathering (COF) of the El Paso County (Colorado) Department of Human Services (DHS) to locate and recruit nonresident fathers of children in the child welfare system to participate in fatherhood classes. The goal was to increase fathers’ involvement with their children and the child welfare system. The research was funded by a grant given through the Administration of Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The American Humane Association oversaw the grant.

The fatherhood classes met for 20 weeks and used a curriculum developed by the QIC NRF to support nonresident fathers in engaging their children. The curriculum covered topics such as navigating the Child Welfare system, supporting their children and workforce issues.

COF also developed training for caseworkers about how to engage non-resident fathers. The training, which was piloted at five state trainings throughout Colorado in 2010, included practical advice on topics such as bringing fathers back into the family dynamic, closing the revolving door on cases and how home visitations by fathers may be different—and should be evaluated differently—than those by mothers.

Strategies for engaging fathers, which grew out of this project, included:
  • Completing the relative resource letters for DHS. After a child has been removed from the home, the child welfare agency, per Federal law, must send a letter to adult relatives within 30 days notifying them of their options of becoming a placement resource for the child. COF sends these letters to the relatives on behalf of DHS for all removals. Sending these letters and receiving the responses helps the project get a head start on locating and contacting nonresident fathers.
  • Using social networking websites, such as Facebook and MySpace, to contact and engage the fathers. One of the participant fathers helped develop the project's Facebook page, which included articles and other resources for nonresident fathers.
  • Having guest speakers attend the classes. This provided the fathers face time with community leaders and experts who are intimately involved with the system. Guest speakers have included child welfare staff, local attorneys, nurses and child support enforcement staff.
Fathers interviewed during the site visit expressed how much the project helped them with their children. The project helped them gain a better understanding of the child welfare and court systems and provided helpful information about child development and communication.

Lessons Learned…
  • Having a good relationship with the County Attorney was very helpful in bolstering the program's efforts to locate the fathers. The County Attorney's office had location resources that would have otherwise been unavailable.
  • Projects need to keep the fathers engaged between the time they consent to participate and the start of classes, especially when there are several weeks or more between those two points.
  • No single recruitment or engagement method works best for all fathers. The approach needs to be tailored on a case-by-case basis.
  • Some fathers who initially refused participation may later agree to participate after several months if their cases are not proceeding as desired.
  • Peer referrals can be very helpful. For example, one father who had recently been released from prison enrolled because another prisoner had told him about the program.
  • New caseworkers are some of the best proponents of the fatherhood classes because they often are not ingrained in the more traditional caseworker approach of not including nonresident fathers.
  • Programs should recognize and acknowledge any previous experience the fathers have had with the child welfare system and the courts, either as an adult or as a child.
  • Courts or child welfare agencies should not order the fathers to take a specific fatherhood class. Giving the father a choice improves his buy-in and reduces defensiveness.
  • Programs should try to find ways to include fathers that live out of the program's immediate jurisdiction (e.g., lives out-of-state, deployed) or otherwise cannot participate (e.g., incarcerated). The program should help those fathers learn more about the child welfare system in which their children live. Some courts allow the fathers to participate in the hearings by phone, so it also may be helpful to train the fathers about how to participate effectively that way.
  • During trainings, programs should provide caseworkers with practical tips for engaging fathers rather than just telling them why engaging dads is important.
  • Some fathers do not want to visit their children because they are unemployed and are unsure of their family role if they are not providing money. Programs should explain to the fathers that they can still be providers by giving non-monetary support, such as love, time and attention, to their children and families.
The following are recommendations from the fathers:
  • Both the programs and the participating fathers should keep an open mind and keep moving forward. They can learn from each other.
  • Programs could use fathers who have completed the curriculum to recruit future participants because some fathers may feel more comfortable speaking to a peer rather than someone connected to the child welfare system.
  • Programs also should focus on the relationship between the father and mother in order to help them communicate better and focus on the well-being of their child.
Completing the relative resource letters has helped the project locate and contact fathers.

Working closely with the county attorney's office has helped locate the fathers because the office has more influence over others (e.g., when trying to obtain the father's contact information from the mother) and the office's database has current, easy-to-follow information about the case's progress in the child welfare and court systems.

Having face-to-face meetings with the fathers was a very effective method of engaging them and getting them to consent to participating in the project. The meetings should be scheduled so that the father does not have to take off work, occur in a location where the father will be comfortable (e.g., their house), and not require the father to travel far.

To help ensure the fathers will continue to attend the classes, the Fatherhood Coach calls the fathers weekly to just check in or follow up on a need or issue the father mentioned during the previous week's session.

COF staff searched multiple databases at various times throughout the case to gather contact information for the fathers. This helped because of the occasional lag time in entering information into the systems (e.g., a child would be identified as having been removed, but the contact information may not be entered until the next week) and because each database may have different information.

Contact Ken Sanders for more information on this grant.