Planting Prevention Seeds: Santa Cruz and Father Engagement Engaging fathers as early as possible prior to child welfare or during the child welfare process can be a critical prevention strategy to keep children and youth from entering the foster care system. In this context, Santa Cruz County Family and Children’s Services (FCS) embarked on an ambitious initiative to increase father engagement. To make this happen, the FCS implemented the following: invited male line staff in FCS to join the Fatherhood/Male Engagement Advisory Council; launched the project with a joint meeting of the managers and the Advisory Council to include a presentation on the goals of this project and a film screening of Fatherhood 101; implemented monthly meetings of the Advisory Board; and created a quarterly Father Engagement newsletter for staff. Based on Case Review Data, the Advisory Council provided areas for recommendations in the following five areas or domains: services and contracts, personnel and hiring, practice and policy, training and environment.
Additionally, Santa Cruz incorporated father engagement as a strategy into their county’s System Improvement Plan. The focus of the strategy is to honor the essential role of fathers in the family system by amplifying the engagement, involvement, and support of fathers in their child’s well-being. For example, the Father/Male Advisory Board engaged the Bay Area Academy to develop a 3-module Father Engagement training series addressing bias towards fathers, tools and techniques in engaging fathers, and approaches to working with fathers who have committed intimate partner violence. Another approach Santa Cruz County has utilized is to ensure images of fathers with their children in the public and staff spaces to make fathers more visible. Lastly, Santa Cruz is incorporating father friendly principles (developed by First 5 Alameda Corps) into contract language and father-specific programming with partner programs. Santa Cruz is hopeful that these approaches will help in creating permanency and stability for families interacting with the child welfare system.