The present study seeks to examine the relationship between father engagement and permanency outcomes (i.e. reunification, adoption, legal guardianship, etc.), hypothesizing that increased levels of father engagement will be associated with increased likelihood of reunification over other outcomes.
Methods: This study utilized child welfare administrative data and case records for 308 children 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 contains a summary of maltreatment allegations investigative findings. The Disposition Report containsa comprehensive family assessment and case plan. Engagement was conceptualized as a 10-stage gradient that begins with workers attempting to identity fathers and concludes with workers considering fathers as a potential placement for their children.
Multinomial logistic regressions were fit to examine the relationship between level of father engagement and permanency outcome while controlling for child and parent covariates. These included child’s age, type of placement (foster care, congregate care, kinship care), parent’s age, perpetrator of the maltreatment, parent’s current criminal justice involvement, and parent’s prior child welfare involvement.
Results: Increased levels of father engagement were associated with decreased likelihood of adoption, (RRR = 0.73, p < 0.05) and decreased likelihood of remaining in care (RRR = 0.60, p < 0.01), compared to likelihood of reunification even when accounting for parent and child characteristics. However, increased levels of engagement were not associated with likelihood of legal guardianship compared to likelihood of reunification.
Conclusions and Implications: These findings suggest that improving the engagement of fathers in the child welfare system may be one way to achieve permanency – one of the stated goals of the child welfare system – as higher levels of father engagement were associated with decreased likelihood of children remaining in care. In addition, increasing father engagement may be a means of increasing the likelihood of more desirable outcomes (i.e. reunification) over other outcomes (i.e. adoption). A next step is, therefore, to examine barriers to engagement and potential ways to address these barriers.