John Doe Is Not the Father: How a Practice Change Helped Families in Denver.

Author:Smith, Katie
Position:Locally speaking

At Denver Human Services (DHS); our mission is to protect those in harm's way and help all people in need. A large part of living out that mission involves protecting children from abuse and neglect. Keeping kids safe can be a challenge, however, when both parents are not identified, as it limits the number of kin available to form a support system for the child. A recent practice shift has helped us do a better job of engaging the whole family.

Until 2016, unidentified fathers in dependency and neglect cases were listed as "John Doe," and caseworkers worked with the mother and her family on safety goals for the child. However, listing "John Doe" doesn't create any more legal freedom for the child in those instances where the department needs to take custody and it restricts the available number of family members who can provide support for the child. As the Colorado Guided Reference in Dependency states, "Not only do relatives and kin serve as potential placements for children in need of out-of-home placement, but they also serve as a potential support for a child in need and a critical connection to that child's identity, past, and future."

In mid-2016, DHS stopped listing "John Doe" on dependency or neglect petitions and began asking that an Affidavit of Parentage be completed in each case. The Affidavit of Parentage is a legal document that requires a parent to provide as much information as possible to help identify, and eventually locate, the noncustodial parent, which is, in most cases, the child's father. Identifying fathers and establishing paternity is of paramount importance for children, because it provides children with the opportunity to know who their parents are, to have additional extended family members who can lend support when necessary, and to allow children an understanding of their culture and heritage, which can lead to a sense of belonging. This new process also has systemic advantages, such as eliminating duplicate efforts to establish paternity for child support purposes.

Since implementing these new practices, DHS has collected data regarding paternity adjudications and permanency outcomes. The DHS averages 600 open dependency and neglect cases in any given month. In 2017:

* 75 percent of children were in their permanent home within 12 months of removal

* 65 percent of cases had a paternity determination

* 86 percent achieved permanency at home or with kin

"Our goal is to identify the father in 100 percent of...

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