Abstract: Fatherhood in Foster Care: A Scoping Review Spanning 30 Years of Research on Expectant and Parenting Fathers in State Care (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Fatherhood in Foster Care: A Scoping Review Spanning 30 Years of Research on Expectant and Parenting Fathers in State Care

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Hospitality 3 - Room 432, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Justin Harty, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, AZ
Kristen Ethier, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Youth in foster care have an increased likelihood of becoming parents as compared to their non-foster care peers. Parenting while in foster care is associated with a variety of risk factors for young parents and their children (e.g., adverse educational outcomes, employment, housing, mental health, criminal justice involvement, intergenerational maltreatment). As such, young parents in foster care have garnered the attention and concern of scholars, policymakers, and child welfare practitioners. However, little attention has been paid to the outcomes, experiences, and needs of young fathers in foster care. This is the first scoping review study to explore the available information on young fathers in foster care spanning the last 30 years.

Methods: The methodology we used for this scoping review was based on the PRISMA-ScR extension for scoping reviews framework (Tricco et al., 2018). Documents from both research and white/grey literature were eligible for inclusion if they contained one or more of the following elements of information on expectant or parenting fathers in foster care: (1) research findings, (2) legal guidance, (3) policy guidance, or (4) practice guidance. We included documents if they were published between 1989–2021, written in English, based in the United States.

Results: We identified 94 sources of evidence: 64 empirical studies (39 mothers only), 21 legal papers (7 mothers only), 8 white papers/grey literature, and 1 dissertation. Articles highlighted six areas of interest regarding expectant and parenting male youth in foster care: (1) incidents of impregnation by males in foster care; (2) predictors and characteristics associated with fathering while in foster care; (3) risk factors of early fatherhood in care; (4) elements of fathering roles while in foster care; (5) legal rights of fathers in foster care; and (6) practice with fathers in care. Across all reviewed literature, mothers in foster care were consistently the focus of the literature. If fathers in foster care were included in the literature, findings or guidance were often provided in the aggregate (e.g., parents in care). When aggregated, literature still focused on mothers in care or female pronouns were used to describe the larger parenting population. In terms of information on fathers in foster care by the source of evidence, research papers provided quantitative descriptions of fathers, practice papers focused on rights of fathers, legal papers centered on paternity establishment or paternal rights, and policy papers discussed the need for improved data tracking and interventions for fathers.

Conclusion and Implications: Overall, more research is needed to understand the outcomes, experiences, and needs of young fathers in foster care, as well as to support them as they transition out of care into early adulthood and young fatherhood. Policymakers and practitioners should explore how existing fatherhood policies and interventions may be leveraged in foster care to improve the child and family outcomes of fathers in foster care. Such efforts may be effective in interrupting the cycle of intergenerational cycle of trauma and foster care involvement for children born to fathers in foster care.