Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner at the Children’s Bureau, introduces two events observed in June that he believes are closely related:
“The month of June provides two causes for celebration in the child welfare world, Father’s Day and National Reunification Month. Both allow us the opportunity to reflect on the importance of families. Both also prompt us to redouble our efforts to strengthen families and do everything we can as a system and in our communities to respect and nurture the integrity of the parent-child relationship.
Reunification Month is a time to celebrate resiliency, hard work, and the power of families to heal. It is a time to acknowledge perseverance and commit to seeking positive outcomes for families separated through foster care. Parents that achieve reunification often have overcome great odds—and too often without adequate support. Their achievement is a demonstration of parental love and its ability to propel change.”
Well said! What follows are some of the specific ways that father involvement and reunification are linked. Children in single parent households are at greater risk of child abuse and neglect. Research shows that when fathers are involved:
- Children have shorter lengths of stay in foster care, fewer placement episodes, and greater stability in foster care
- Children are more likely to be reunified
- Reunifications are more durable
The father’s family can also play a role in reunification. NFPN’s early research on father involvement demonstrated that social workers who received training and assistance were more likely to involve the father’s family with the child and in the case plan. Winokur et al. (2014) report that children placed with kin have more placement stability and higher rates of behavioral and emotional well-being than children placed with unrelated caregivers.
Involving the father and the father’s family needs to begin early in the intervention. In NFPN’s research study, social workers’ efforts to involve fathers tended to taper off after six months. In another study, the worker established either a trusting working relationship or no working relationship with the parent(s) within three weeks of the referral.
Coakley, Kelley, & Bartlett (2014) provide some steps for engaging fathers:
1.Use diligent efforts to identify, find, communicate with, and engage fathers
2. Offer fathers the same services and supports that mothers receive, and treat them equally
3.Address father-specific needs (community services, father support groups, counseling, housing and employment services, etc.)
4.Ensure a constructive worker-father relationship
During this month of June, there are many resources to choose from on both father involvement and reunification. Here are just a few:
The Birth Parent National Network is sponsoring a Reunification webinar on June 28, featuring Mimi Laver with the American Bar Association. You can register for the webinar at https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/7399725737582547459.
A parents’ handbook for reunification is available at https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/reunification/
A research article on father engagement and involvement can be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4389279/
A report from the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network on state approaches to including fathers in programs and practices: http://www.frpn.org/asset/frpn-research-brief-state-approaches-including-fathers-in-programs-and-policies-dealing
Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director