When both of their parents participate in the Integrated Assessment interviews, are Illinois foster children more likely to return home?
In recognition of the need for comprehensive family assessments, and in response to the concerns raised by the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR), the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) developed the Integrated Assessment (IA) program. The IA program partners child welfare caseworkers with licensed clinicians to provide better information about the functioning of children entering foster care and about child and family strengths, support systems, and service needs. The information-gathering activities and the collaborative process between the caseworker and IA screener are intended to produce better-quality child and family assessments, which in turn facilitate the development of better service plans and engagement in appropriate interventions. Alongside other DCFS efforts to engage biological parents and specifically fathers, IA screeners and caseworkers were strongly encouraged to include fathers—resident or nonresident—in the IA process.
Chapin Hall’s implementation study of the Integrated Assessment Program showed that when both parents are interviewed, more children are eventually able to return home to their parents. Specifically:
- When both parents were interviewed, the likelihood of family reunification was 3.2 times greater than when neither parent was interviewed.
- When only one parent was interviewed, the likelihood of reunification was 2.4 times greater than when neither parent was interviewed.
Between 2005 and 2008, caseworkers and IA screeners working together completed assessments on over 9,000 cases. The largest proportion included interviews with both the mother and father (40%); only mothers were interviewed in 37 percent of cases, and in relatively few cases (5%), the father was the only parent interviewed. The total percentage of cases in which a father has been interviewed has increased from 40.5 percent in 2005 to 55.4 percent in 2008, driven for the most part by increases in the percentage of cases where both parents were interviewed.
Both IA screeners and caseworkers indicated that a fathers’ willingness to or interest in being involved was a significant factor in service planning and delivery. However, a review of IA reports and interviews with caseworkers revealed a bias —whereby mothers were described as the first priority for reunification or the prognosis for reunification with the father was sometimes not addressed at all in the report.
Nonetheless, the importance of involving fathers in the assessment process stood out in an analysis of reunification outcomes. Controlling for age, race, type of maltreatment, initial placement type, prior foster care placement, and region, the likelihood of reunification was greatest for children in the group in which both parents were interviewed as part of the integrated assessment—significantly greater than that for children who had one parent or neither parent complete the interview.
Despite their contributions or potential to contribute to their child’s well-being, some of these fathers also faced resource constraints that prohibited them from assuming a custodial role, and child welfare caseworkers seemed to indicate that few resources were available to meet these fathers’ needs. Nonetheless, efforts to draw on these fathers’ extended resource networks and to support their ongoing involvement in their children’s lives may have significant payoff. The evidence points to a need for the child welfare system to continue to improve efforts to engage fathers and to deliver services appropriate to fathers’ circumstances and needs.