Review organizational readiness with senior management. The will and commitment of the staff starts with a practice model that values fathers and paternal relatives. Establish organizational expectations and accountability for all staff regarding father involvement. Incorporate into staff training an overview of nonresident fathers in child welfare for all new staff, supervisors and administrators. Incorporate the importance of father involvement into new worker orientations. Introduction to fatherhood issues should be more than information transmittal and needs to be both a personal and a professional experience.
Review current organizational policies and procedures to identify the gaps between policy and practice. Make adjustments as needed and educate and disseminate to re-enforce the commitment to involving fathers. Look for opportunities within current staff such as program specialist to provide guidance and/or lead the father involvement focus that reflects all areas of practice. Oftentimes there are pockets of fatherhood activities or related activities that logically and logistically support fatherhood issues in child welfare.
Perform an assessment of organizational climate around fatherhood issues in both the public child welfare agency and community based organizations that serve child welfare families. It is critical that the practice within community programs (often a contracted provider) is aligned with the public child welfare agency that is referring the family. The Father Friendly Checkup for Child Welfare is a tool that explicitly addresses these nine broad steps. It is available as a fully automated survey with organizational and staff role flags. This tool will identify areas that need attention and strategic planning for improvement. In order to be genuine in changing a culture to value and seek out a father’s involvement there must be a foundation built or (plans to build) that values and actively involves all family members.
Examine agency practice related to family involvement and identify models of practice currently implemented. Assess the comprehensiveness of the models to actively engage and partner with families to identify solutions that will address concerns and issues. Specific practices that speak to issues of ‘fathers’, not ‘parents’ in general, gives concrete activities to make a values framework real.
Does your organization’s physical environment reflect and reinforce the values held by staff that fathers are welcome? Is your waiting room gender neutral or gender balanced? Pictures and magazines, types of furniture, and even wall colors give messages that everyone pick up. The stress of uncomfortable and different situations can heighten these messages.
Changing organizational culture begins the first day staff is hired and throughout the duration of their employment. New staff orientation, introductory or basic training, intermediate training and advanced training provide a continuum of knowledge development that supports competency and skill development. Regardless of the area of practice effective father engagement crosses all program and practice areas. Training for caseworkers addressing the Identification and Location, and Engagement of nonresident fathers is a critical component to the change process.
Many systems, organizations, programs, etc. touch the lives of families. Fathers are no exception. However, many programs have a maternal focus and fail to identify and address the concrete, more immediate, needs of fathers. It is through the collaboration with the Court System, Child Support Enforcement System, Community providers, and other human services systems that opportunities for education can be identified to better understand the needs and motivation of fathers and build the services and supports needed. This is particularly true given the multiple needs many fathers bring to child welfare settings.
Provide awareness to the community that will increase their understanding of the dynamics that impact a father’s lack of involvement, framing the right message, which will communicate to selected audiences most effectively. Changing the perspective from “dead beat” to “dead broke” and mobilizing the community around the support of fathers involvement with their children is the ultimate goal.
Information system support development. Creation of fatherhood data fields, population of existing data fields and information reports all need to work well to understand what is occurring with fathers in child welfare. Regular reporting about fathers and father related issues can be an effective change strategy by itself. The facts of father absence in child welfare are startling. There is an astounding prevalence of non-resident fathers for homes that children come from when they have been taken into substitute care. This has been and still is a hidden fact of child welfare. How many other critical points of leverage are missed because of a lack of data and information about fathers in child welfare.