Promoting Racially and Ethnically Minoritized Father Involvement in the Child Welfare System

Stephanie Miodus, M.A., M.Ed., Audris Jimenez, M.A., & Tiffany Rodriguez, BSSW, CWCM


Children in the child welfare system benefit from father involvement with a lower risk of psychosocial problems and less time spent in foster care (Coakley, 2013). However, even with the substantial benefits for children with increased father involvement, fathers are not fully engaged in the child welfare system. Specifically, case workers are less likely to contact fathers for case planning than mothers (Malm, 2006) and fathers report lower levels of satisfaction with the system (Huebner et al., 2008), citing experiencing exclusion from engagement with their children due to biased policies and practices (Coakley, 2013). These biases may be further pronounced for racially and ethnically minoritized fathers who experience other systemic barriers (e.g., mass incarceration) and biases (Miller et al., 2013). Thus, this training seminar seeks to address the need for inclusion of fathers by highlighting research on the benefits of and barriers to racially and ethnically minoritized father involvement in the child welfare system. The seminar will also explore resources, strategies, policies, and structural changes that can support greater engagement of fathers in the child welfare system. Participants will leave prepared to take the skills and resources they acquire to put them into practice through advocacy, practice, or research.

This training seminar will address barriers to, benefits of, and resources to support father involvement in the child welfare system, particularly for fathers from racially and ethnically minoritized backgrounds.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the benefits of and barriers to father involvement in the child welfare system and the impact on children and families.

  • Identify community and agency resources and strategies that address barriers to racially and ethnically minoritized father involvement in the child welfare system.

  • Generate ideas and future policy and practice avenues to support racially and ethnically minoritized father engagement in the child welfare system.

Benefits of Father Involvement & the Impact on Children/Families

  • Overall:

    • In general, father involvement or engagement with children can lead to:

      • Positive health outcomes in infants

        • Weight gain

        • Breastfeeding

      • Young boys-reduction of frequency of behavioral problems and delinquency

      • Young girls-reduction of psychological problems and likelihood of depression

      • Promote more independent behavior

      • Challenge child’s language competency

      • Higher levels of confidence

      • 43% more likely to earn A’s in school

      • Further into adulthood:

        • More likely to go to college or find employment

        • Less likely to go to be incarcerated

    • Absence of father involvement:

      • Long lasting psychological effects

      • Hinders development

    • Mental Health (Leon et al., 2016)

      • Father involvement with children in Illinois state custody, results indicated that father involvement was associated with lower externalizing behaviors

        • Oppositional behavior, conduct, attention deficit/impulse control, anger control, danger to others, sexual aggression, and delinquency

    • Case Planning

      • A study (Coakley, 2013) that included biological fathers, stepfathers, the mother’s boyfriend, their uncles, or legal guardians found that children had a shorter stay in foster care when their fathers complied with the case plan

      • Also more likely to be placed with a parent or relative than with a non-relative

      • But only 38.6% of fathers in this study signed the case plan and only 15.9% complied with the case plan

      • Father-identified cases led to more reunification with a parent than non-father identified cases (Barrus et al., 2012)

        • 1.6 times more likely

        • In these cases, children also spent more time with a parent and less time in foster care

Barriers to Father Involvement & the Impact on Children/Families

  • Sexism (Brewsaugh et al,. 2018):

    • A study looked at child welfare workers sexism and found that:

      • Case workers with profiles suggesting less sexist beliefs had more positive attitudes about father involvement

      • Also had a lower preference for working solely with mothers

  • Rigid Thinking (Maxwell et al., 2012):

    • Case study in England found workers had rigid thinking when it comes to fathers

      • “All good” or “all bad” fathers

      • They did not take “bad fathers” seriously when they made complaints for their kids

      • Difficulty changing label after successful completion of intervention

      • Past problematic behavior perception lingered

  • Difficulty (Maxwell et al., 2012b):

    • Study focused on training social workers to improve father engagement

      • Feedback from the workers was that it was difficult and time-consuming to work with men

      • Fathers also seen as a potential risk and were fearful of aggression

  • Fathers' Perceptions of System (Coakley, 2013):

    • Unprofessional child welfare workers

      • Felt that they had a title so they could treat them however

      • Outward displays of annoyance:

        • Rolling eyes

        • Smacking teeth

    • Prejudice

      • How they look at you, color of skin

      • Stereotypes

    • Talk to mother instead of the father

      • Feeling ignored

  • Maternal Gatekeeping (Maxwell et al., 2012):

    • Mothers may block access to fathers

    • Mothers do not provide contact for fathers

      • Scared to identify fathers for fear of losing children or not divulge info on past abuse

  • African American Fathers (Coakley, 2008):

    • Not always involved in permanency planning with their children due to:

      • Inability to provide financial support

      • Incarceration

      • Substance use

      • Mental health problems

      • Bond with children

      • Relationship with children’s mother

      • Child welfare agencies not taking into account race-related social problems

  • Disproportionality (Arroyo et al., 2019):

    • Child welfare agencies less likely to identify Black fathers and fathers of multiracial children, in comparison to White fathers

    • Agencies less likely to locate Black and Latinx fathers

    • Black and Latinx fathers have lower odds of being contacted after being located

    • Things that affected contact odds:

      • Fathers presenting safety risk

      • Fathers currently incarcerated or in the past

      • Father’s migration

Resources & Strategies for the Child Welfare System

  • Efforts to Locate and/or Identify Fathers

    • Diligent Searches

    • Family Finder Program

    • Putative Father Registry

    • Clear Searches

    • Access to DMV records and local criminal history

    • Identifying Legal and Biological Father

    • Paternity Testing

  • Identifying a Family’s Needs

    • Florida Safety Decision Making Methodology

    • Risk Assessment, FFA-I, Present Danger Assessment

    • Staffings and Joint Responses

    • Assessments by CWIST Clinicians

    • Other Parent Home Assessment

    • Case Plan Conference

  • Translator Available 24/7

  • Financial Assistance

    • Daycare Fees

    • Rent/Mortgage Payment

    • Utilities

    • Legal Fees

  • Legal Assistance

  • Therapeutic Services

    • Prevention Programs

    • Community Referrals

  • Services for Incarcerated Parents

    • Incarcerated Parents and Dependency Court

  • Facilitating Parent-Child Visits

    • Therapeutic Supervised Visitation

Resources & Strategies for Fatherhood Advocacy & Support Programs

  • Consider intergenerational trauma & support system needs

    • Help identify a support system

  • Flexible scheduling

    • Accommodate work schedules, etc.

  • Programming available in different languages

    • Based on community

  • Cultural competence, sensitivity, & humility

    • Provide ongoing support to staff

  • Family programming

  • Co-parenting classes

  • Act as a supervised visit site

  • Financial/resource assistance

    • E.g., diapers, toys

  • Additional incentives

  • Court support

  • Community events and celebrations of milestones

  • Focus on supporting the father as an individual first

    • Build on this support to then work on their skills as a father

  • Work with father using evidence-based strategies that meet their specific needs

  • Communicate and coordinate with child welfare case worker

  • Special considerations for incarcerated fathers

    • Facilitate continued visitation for fathers

Future Policy & Practice Avenues

Father-Specific Recommendations (e.g., Huebner et al., 2008):

  • Case-specific help that incorporates the fathers

  • Seek father input (including an advisory council from fathers with prior cases who were successful)

  • Partner with mediation/counseling services to navigate caregiver conflicts

  • Improve information systems

  • Staff development

  • Funding & legislative support

Recommendations to Address Systemic/Structural Bias (e.g., Miller et al., 2013):


Arroyo, J., & Peek, C. W. (2015). Child welfare caseworkers’ characteristics and their attitudes toward non-custodial fathers. Child Abuse & Neglect, 47, 140-152.

Arroyo, J., Zsembik, B., & Peek, C. W. (2019). Ain’t nobody got time for dad? Racial-ethnic disproportionalities in child welfare casework practice with nonresident fathers. Child Abuse & Neglect, 93, 182–196.

Brewsaugh, K., Masyn, K. E., & Salloum, A. (2018). Child welfare workers’ sexism and beliefs about father involvement. Children and Youth Services Review, 89, 132–144.

Burrus, S. W. M., Green, B. L., Worcel, S., Finigan, M., & Furrer, C. (2012). Do dads matter? Child welfare outcomes for father-identified families. Journal of Child Custody, 9(3), 201–216.

Coakley, T. M. (2008). Examining African American fathers’ involvement in permanency planning: An effort to reduce racial disproportionality in the child welfare system. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(4), 407–417.

Coakley, T. M. (2013). An appraisal of fathers' perspectives on fatherhood and barriers to their child welfare involvement. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 23(5), 627-639.

Coakley, T. M. (2013). The influence of father involvement on child welfare permanency outcomes: A secondary data analysis. Children and Youth Services Review, 35(1), 174-182.

Huebner, R. A., Werner, M., Hartwig, S., White, S., & Shewa, D. (2008). Engaging fathers: Needs and satisfaction in child protective services. Administration in Social Work, 32(2), 87-103.

Leon, S. C., Jhe Bai, G., & Fuller, A. K. (2016). Father involvement in child welfare: Associations with changes in externalizing behavior. Child Abuse & Neglect, 55, 73–80.

Malm, K., Murray, J., & Geen, R. (2006). What About the Dads?: Child Welfare Agencies' Efforts to Identify, Locate and Involve Nonresident Fathers. Urban Institute.

Miller, K. M., Cahn, K., Anderson-Nathe, B., Cause, A. G., & Bender, R. (2013). Individual and systemic/structural bias in child welfare decision making: Implications for children and families of color. Children and Youth Services Review, 35(9), 1634-1642.

Maxwell, N., Scourfield, J., Featherstone, B., Holland, S., & Tolman, R. (2012). Engaging fathers in child welfare services: A narrative review of recent research evidence. Child & Family Social Work, 17(2), 160-169.

Maxwell, N., Scourfield, J., Holland, S., Featherstone, B., & Lee, J. (2012). The benefits and challenges of training child protection social workers in father engagement. Child Abuse Review (Chichester, England : 1992), 21(4), 299–310.

Nievar, M. A., Ramisetty-Mikler, S., Saleh, M. F., & Cabrera, N. (2020). Families offering children unfailing support (FOCUS) Fatherhood Program: Changing child welfare through child support and parenting skills. Children and Youth Services Review, 118, 105321.

Why Fatherhood Engagement Matters: Children's Bureau. Child Abuse Prevention, Treatment & Welfare Services | Children's Bureau. (2017, May 1).

Zanoni, L., Warburton, W., Bussey, K., & McMaugh, A. (2013). Fathers as ‘core business’ in child welfare practice and research: An interdisciplinary review. Children and Youth Services Review, 35(7), 1055-1070.


For more information on this presentation, please contact:

Stephanie Miodus, MA, MEd at, Audris Jimenez, MA at, or Tiffany Rodriguez, BSSW, CWCM at