Methods. This analysis relied on a unique dataset constructed by linking the child welfare records of 208,211 infants who were reported for maltreatment in California between 1999 and 2006 to over 4 million birth records of children born during this period. The rates of paternity establishment among children reported for maltreatment were compared with those of the overall birth cohort. Generalized linear models were used to estimate the risk of contact with child protective services among infants with missing paternity information, after adjusting for other risk factors. Trends in paternity establishment were examined over time by allegation type and case disposition.
Results. Between 1999-2006, 9% of children born in California were missing paternal information. Yet among those reported for maltreatment, over 31% had not had paternity established at birth. The rate of missing paternity increased with greater child welfare involvement and case severity. Among children who were reported but had an unfounded allegation of maltreatment, 24% were missing paternity information. Of those infants who were substantiated as victims of maltreatment, 38% had no established paternity. A full 46% of children experiencing an out of home foster care placement had no identified father at birth. Although African-American children had higher rates of missing paternity than children of other racial/ethnic groups, the absence of paternity proved a consistent risk factor across all infants.
Conclusions. These data indicate that among infants reported for maltreatment, the absence of an identified father is over 3.8 times greater than in the general population. Thought of in other terms, 32% of infants without a father identified at birth are subsequently reported for maltreatment. The high rates of missing fathers at birth highlight the difficult engagement efforts faced by child welfare workers and call into question indiscriminate calls to engage fathers absent pre-existing relationships between the father and child.