February 4, 2021
In 2019 the Dads’ Resource Center concluded a study researching potential biases toward fathers within Pennsylvania courts, legal system, and county and human services agencies. This study reviewed the ratio of male to female staff and supervisors in the Office of Children and Youth (CYS) for every county in Pennsylvania.
The study shows the ratio of staff to be 82% female to 18% male, and the ratio of supervisors to be 84% female to 16% male.
“The safety and welfare of our children is of paramount importance, says Jeff Steiner, DRC executive director. “Those who work in the Offices of Children and Youth perform a critical function in ensuring the well-being of children, and work long hours dealing with incredibly challenging situations.”
“Courts often defer to the expertise and training of CYS workers and their supporting agencies when making decisions relative to the well-being of children and custody determinations,” he continues. “The extreme disproportion of female to male staffing that our study found reinforces the perception that fathers can be treated unfavorably when CYS becomes involved with their families and in custody hearings.”
Unfortunately, in the face of increasing divorce rates and single parent homes, millions of children are being deprived of the benefit of both of their parents actively involved in their lives. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America live in homes that are absent of both biological parents, most often the father. When issues of child custody enter into the legal and human service systems, fathers often face obstacles and bias.
“Fathers frequently face pervasive biases and obstacles in the legal and human services system, unfair hurdles that result in their children losing the benefit of their active presence in their lives.” says Steiner.
“There is a tendency for the courts, county and human services agencies to default in favor of mothers. Far too often this results in children’s contact with their fathers being severely limited. Initial custody determinations tend to go more toward the mother, and once custody is set it becomes very difficult to readjust. Even if there are indications that it might be in the best interest of the children to do so,” concludes Steiner.
As part of the study, DRC is putting forth several recommendations:
- A working group of CYS supervisors and staff should be convened to develop measurements to quantify how successful offices are in ensuring that children are getting the opportunity to have both parents actively involved in their lives.
- The working group could utilize this information to put forward proposals that would enable county offices to develop more father-friendly cultures. This could include highlighting fatherhood during the interviewing and hiring process, developing father-focused policies and local based initiatives that focus on fatherhood.
- Each office should have staff who are identified as “fatherhood specialists” who are provided with additional training and resources to more effectively work to engage disaffected fathers and assist disenfranchised fathers.