The 2016 theme for the Children’s Bureau’s National Foster Care Month is “Honoring, Uniting, and Celebrating Families.” This year's theme highlights the important benefits to children and youth when they're connected and reunited with family and, in particular, their fathers. Many fathers want to do more than pay child support,1 they want to have healthy connections with their children and be an equal parent. Youth, especially those who have been placed in out-of-home care, truly benefit from a consistent and healthy relationship with their fathers. They can also benefit from stable relationships with other father figures such as uncles, coaches, or mentors—and the role of the child welfare system is to help encourage and support that connection.
For youth in foster care, improved connections with a father or father figure can be a critical protective factor that yields positive outcomes, including an overall reduction in behavioral problems, fewer foster care placements, and an increase in social and emotional well-being. Connection with a father can also help prevent homelessness and encounters with law enforcement. Child welfare workers have a unique opportunity to promote the well-being of children and youth by advocating for the rights of fathers.
Strong and ongoing collaborations between responsible fatherhood stakeholders and child welfare agencies can be an invaluable asset for clients. Child welfare professionals, in their work to connect youth in foster care with their families, should work diligently to locate and educate fathers and their families about their right to be involved in the lives of their children. The National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) offers the Basic Fatherhood Training Curriculum that teaches child welfare professionals about the importance of father-child reunification and how to implement best practices when working with fathers. This knowledge aids child welfare professionals in learning important skills and information useful when coordinating with fatherhood programs. Some of the topics covered in the curriculum include the following:
• What do we know about fatherhood?
• Best or promising child welfare practices regarding fathers
• How to promote more father-friendly policies in an agency?
• Engaging and involving fathers in their children's lives
Another helpful tool is the Responsible Fatherhood Toolkit: Resources From the Field, which helps those who support fathers define the level of need in their community and provide access to field-tested resources.
This year, the National Foster Care Month website offers resources for foster parents and caregivers, youth, child welfare professionals, communities, and more. There is a new section, specifically for parents, where fathers can find resources, including the products How the Child Welfare System Works, The Parents’ Get Real Guide to Getting Your Kids Back, and Finding Your Way: Guides for Fathers in Child Protection Cases. Fathers can even join an active conversation on foster care and reunification on the National Foster Care Month Facebook Campaign page at www.facebook.com/NFCMCampaign.
Child Welfare Information Gateway promotes the safety, permanency, and well-being of children, youth, and families by connecting child welfare, adoption, and related professionals as well as the public to information, resources, and tools covering topics on child welfare, child abuse and neglect, out-of-home care, adoption, and more. Find more information on their website, Facebook page, and by following them on Twitter.
1Brodie, K., Paddock, N., Gilliam, C., Chavez, & Chavez, J. (2014). Father Involvement and Child Welfare: The Voice of Men of Color. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 11(1), 33-41.