The National Quality Improvement Center for Non-Resident Fathers and the Child Welfare System (QIC NRF) awarded subgrants in 2008 to projects in four States for fatherhood classes for nonresident fathers whose children have been removed from their homes. One of the four subgrants was awarded to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Child Protection Services (CPS) Division to conduct a project in Tarrant County in partnership with several local organizations. Tarrant County includes the cities of Fort Worth and Arlington and is adjacent to Dallas County. The project has three main components:
- Identifying and locating potentially eligible fathers whose children are in foster care
- Providing curriculum-driven fatherhood classes
- Raising awareness among child welfare workers about the importance of father engagement.
The fatherhood classes meet for 20 weeks and use a curriculum developed by the QIC NRF to support nonresident fathers in engaging their children. The curriculum covers topics such as navigating the child welfare system, supporting their children, the juvenile court system, and workforce issues. Between August 2008 and March 2010, the Tarrant County subgrant held fatherhood classes for seven cohorts of fathers.
Project staff and participating fathers offered various observations about the project, including:
- Those who participated in the classes gained valuable support, although the small size of the classes negatively affected the implementation of the curriculum.
- The fathers noted that persistent phone calls were the best way to encourage their participation in a class.
- The males-only dynamic in the classes was very beneficial for the fathers.
- Common barriers to the fathers being able to attend the classes included transportation issues and conflicting work schedules, and common barriers to initially engaging the fathers included distrust of the child welfare system, personal issues (e.g., substance abuse, mental health problems), fear of the unknown, their fragile state (i.e., being overwhelmed by the situation), and paternity questions.
Project staff felt that the project made its biggest impact on the understanding and practice of CPS staff regarding engaging fathers. The subgrant conducted several trainings on this topic, including one for 350 workers from 19 counties. The majority of workers surveyed after the training indicated that they had increased their knowledge about the importance of father involvement and the barriers fathers face with the child welfare system. Other trainings focused on topics such as pulling historical paternal information from case files and locating fathers.
The subgrant ends on March 31, 2011, and the Tarrant County subgrant continues to work on ways to disseminate the information they collected and sustain various components of the project, such as family finding, support for fathers, the Fathers Advisory Council, and changes to the data collection system to make it focus more on paternal information.
Reprinted from Children's Bureau Express, "Site Visit: Supporting Nonresident Fathers in Texas" (http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov).