Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16970 Where Are the Dads? the Absence of Established Paternity Among Children Involved with Child Protective Services

Friday, January 13, 2012: 3:00 PM
Cabin John (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Emily Putnam-Hornstein, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Berkeley, CA
Wendy Wiegmann, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Joseph Magruder, PhD, Research Associate, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose. The constellation of adults involved in the lives of children reported to child protective services has been difficult to capture and infrequently examined in the empirical literature. The purpose of this study was to examine paternity establishment at birth, therefore capturing an indication of father-involvement prior to a child's first report of abuse or neglect. California Health and Safety Code Section 102425 specifies that “If the parents are not married to each other, the father's name shall not be listed on the birth certificate unless the father and the mother sign a voluntary declaration of paternity at the hospital before the birth certificate is prepared.” As such, we used the absence of paternal name/information in the birth record as a lower-bound estimate of non-marital births and a seeming lack of substantial parental partner involvement. Paternity as established on the birth record has been utilized in prior examinations of infant mortality (Gaudino, Jenkins, & Rochat, 1999; Parrish & Gessner, 2010) and as a risk factor for maltreatment (Putnam-Hornstein & Needell, 2011).

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.