The present study addresses these gaps by examining differences in eligibility for engagement and levels of engagement among fathers of child welfare-involved children in one urban county in California.
Methods: This study utilized child welfare case records for all 480 children from 340 families who entered out-of-home care for the first time between October 2013 and September 2015 in one urban county. Information relevant to father engagement was extracted via a systematic content analysis of two case documents. The Emergency Response Transfer Summary contained a summary of maltreatment allegations and investigative findings. The Disposition Report contained a comprehensive family assessment and case plan.
Fathers were categorized as ineligible for engagement (i.e. need not be offered services or included in the case plan as they met the criteria for reunification bypass under California law), eligible for restricted engagement (i.e. incarcerated fathers, fathers living in another country), or eligible for full engagement (i.e. all other fathers). Engagement was conceptualized as a 10-stage gradient that begins with child welfare workers attempting to identity fathers and concludes with workers considering fathers as a potential placement for their children.
Descriptive statistics were used to describe the number of fathers eligible for engagement and their levels of engagement. Chi-squared tests were used to compare levels of engagement by eligibility status.
Results:There were 398 fathers represented in the sample of 340 families. Fifty-eight percent of fathers were eligible for full engagement, 7% were eligible for restricted engagement, and 35% were ineligible for engagement.
Fully eligible fathers were identified, located, and contacted at significantly higher rates (74%) than fathers eligible for restricted engagement (63%) and ineligible fathers (45%, p < 0.05). They were also offered visitation, offered services, included in the case plan, and considered as a potential placement for their children at significantly higher rates (55% vs. 22% and 0%, p < 0.05).
Conclusions and Implications: These findings suggest that fathers in child welfare vary in terms of their eligibility for engagement, which impacts their levels of engagement. Efforts to improve father engagement should therefore include approaches that target fathers according to their level of eligibility. In addition, research quantifying levels of father engagement should account for eligibility status as failure to do so may result in underestimations of levels of father engagement. Specifically, including ineligible fathers who cannot legally be offered services or included in case plans in tallies of father engagement overestimates the number of fathers who are not being engaged.