Texas CPS ‘Bringing Back the Dads’ program aims to re-engage fathers in their children’s lives
By ALEX BRANCH abranch@star-telegram.
When police and Child Protective Services investigated whether a man’s daughter was abused by his ex-wife’s boyfriend, the father says no one called to fill him in.
In fact, he said, he struggled to find information even after he learned of the investigation.
“I couldn’t get anyone to call me back,” said Paul, whose last name is not being used to protect his children’s identity. “It felt like no one really paid attention to the fathers. It was about the mothers.”
At a time when more American children than ever live in homes without biological fathers, it is a tendency that should change, child welfare officials say.
A pilot program called “Bringing Back the Dads” strives to engage nonresident fathers with their children. The effort trains CPS workers to better reach out to fathers and offers classes to dads exploring how they can be more involved in their children’s lives.
The Fatherhood Coalition of Tarrant County and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services are collaborating on the project.
Tarrant County was one of four areas in the U.S. to get a three-year, $100,000 grant from the U.S. Children’s Bureau for the program. If successful, it could be instituted nationally..
“We have a very maternal system,” said Elna Vanderberg, executive director of NewDay Services for children and families in Tarrant County, a member of the coalition. “The idea is to make a better effort to reach out to these fathers and appeal to those fathers’ hearts to understand the value they can have in their children’s lives.”
One of the program’s goals is to identify obstacles caseworkers face while engaging fathers. Among the most common is finding them, said Karen Bird, who coordinates the project.
“It can be double the work to track them down and try to make contact with them,” she said.
Making the task more challenging are heavy CPS caseloads as well as time restraints set by the Legislature on how quickly decisions must be made, Vanderberg said.
Paul said he was involved in his children’s lives but still wasn’t contacted. To add to his frustrations, he said, he tried calling the police detective investigating the case and was told that his ex-wife had to first give the investigator permission to speak to him.
“I saw my kids every weekend,” he said. “But no one told me anything anyway.”
A national study of almost 2,000 children removed from homes where the father did not live found that 88 percent of the fathers were identified by caseworkers. But just more than half of the fathers were contacted.
Only about a quarter of the fathers contacted expressed interest in the child living with them, according to the National Quality Improvement Center.
This year, NewDay Services has trained 400 CPS investigators and supervisors from 19 counties in Texas on how to engage fathers, Vanderberg said. The project was launched in January 2008, but much of the first year was spent developing curriculum. The grant lasts until 2010.
Studies show that children with absent biological fathers are, on average, two to three times more likely to be poor; to use drugs; experience emotional, educational and behavioral problems; and to engage in crime.
Marissa Gonzalez, spokeswoman for CPS in Tarrant County, said the agency is hopeful that the project will result in “better, brighter outcomes for children.”
“CPS knows that outcomes for children are better when families work together for the well-being of the children,” she said. “Historically, however, much of the focus has been on mothers and not fathers.”
Success will greatly depend on the fathers’ willingness to participate.
Some are so removed from their children that officials say it’s like turning an aircraft carrier. Sometimes hostility between parents is so severe that the fathers feel forced aside.
“A roadblock is the mindset of some fathers in society, who seem to think they have become redundant in the lives of their children and that all that is required is to provide financial support,” Vanderberg said.
“We are telling them how important their relationships with their children are.”
The classes are voluntary and focus on nonresident fathers whose children were removed from their mother’s house by CPS. The fathers must not have criminal records.
Among other things, classes offer an overview of how the court system works, how to manage relationships with CPS and how to handle visitation, said Tommy Jordan, NewDay’s fatherhood program director.
“From the outside looking in, the system is a mystery,” Jordan said. “It can overwhelm and intimidate people. We have to overcome this and learn to capitalize on the father who is often standing right in front of us.”
Study The “What About the Dads?” national study included 1,958 children who were removed from homes where the father did not live. Telephone interviews with 1,222 caseworkers indicated that:
88 percent of nonresident fathers were identified.
55 percent of fathers were contacted by caseworkers.
30 percent of fathers visited their child.
28 percent expressed interest in their children living with them.
Source: The National Quality Improvement Center
ALEX BRANCH, 817-390-7689