The Fathers Engagement Project in King County, WA, is one of four projects funded in 2008 by the National Quality Improvement Center for Non-Residential Fathers and the Child Welfare System (QIC NRF). The State's Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is using the grant to locate and recruit nonresident fathers of children in the child welfare system for a peer support group and other services. The goal is to increase fathers' involvement with their children and the child welfare system.
Using the same core curriculum, which was funded by the QIC NRF, as other projects, the King County peer groups focus on topics such as how the child welfare system works, parenting education, accessing resources, and how the court system works. Within the peer group framework, the fathers learn to support each other as they navigate the child welfare system and reconnect with their children.
Another component of the Fathers Engagement Project is educating DCFS workers about identifying and locating fathers and engaging them in their children's case planning and, in some cases, including them as permanency resources. Staff from the QIC NRF and its contractors have provided trainings to DCFS staff about the importance of involving nonresident fathers and ways to do so through two full-day trainings. As part of ongoing education, the local project has hosted "Lunch with Dads" sessions at agency offices to give some of the fathers who have graduated from the program an opportunity to talk about their experiences in an informal setting with workers. Implementing the "Lunch with Dads" sessions has helped workers better understand the fathers' perspectives on their situations and the child welfare system. It also allows the fathers to feel heard by the system. One social worker noted that these sessions have been successful at increasing social worker buy-in.
Although the project still is undergoing its evaluation, anecdotal evidence points to a number of successful components, for example:
- As part of their practicum experience, graduate students from the Child Welfare Training and Advancement Program at the University of Washington have learned more about engaging nonresident fathers and contacted them on behalf of their assigned social worker using the IRB-approved script.
- The group facilitator is a man who has experiences similar to those of the fathers, and this has given him great credibility with the groups.
- The project has support from the county's judicial leadership.
- The project began providing prepaid cell phones to the fathers in the third cohort to help with communication and tracking, and all fathers who received a phone continued to attend their peer group sessions.
The peer groups have empowered the fathers, helped them feel supported by a segment within the child welfare system, and have helped them feel less isolated. The project has also helped social workers develop a better understanding of the fathers' experiences and the importance of actively engaging them in their children's lives. Most importantly, based on feedback from interviews, it appears that the children have more involvement with their fathers and paternal relatives, as well as more permanency options.
Reprinted from Children's Bureau Express, "Site Visit: Fathers Engagement Project" (http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov).