May is National Foster Care Month. The Child Welfare Information Gateway promotes “Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents”, and it has this to say about reunification:
“When children must be removed from their families to ensure their safety, the first goal is to reunite them with their families as soon as possible. Child welfare agencies implement multifaceted strategies that build on family strengths and address concerns. Such strategies may include family engagement, maintaining family and cultural connections, connecting families to evidence-based services in the community, regular and frequent visits among family members and with the worker, and parent education, among others. Returning children home often requires intensive, family-centered services to support a safe and stable family. Services should be tailored to each family’s circumstances and should address the issue(s) that brought the child and family into the child welfare system.”
This sums up the National Family Preservation Network’s approach to foster care. NFPN has been engaged in reunification efforts for over 20 years. The following links provide research and guidance on reunification:
The restrictions of Covid-19 have presented challenges, but fortunately there are families who are continuing to work toward and achieve reunification. NFPN recently spoke to some workers who shared these success stories:
One family had reunified shortly before the quarantine began. The biological parents had completed parenting classes and substance abuse treatment and their workers were able to help them with home repairs and obtaining furniture before reunification occurred. Shortly after the parents regained custody, the mother was laid off from her job due to the coronavirus. Although this created stress for the family, the mother chose to use the opportunity to do creative things with the children. She asked the worker to help her get some educational board games, which she has been actively playing with the children. The mother reports that she is enjoying this family time and that the children are thriving.
Another family had a daughter who was in foster care. Her biological mother had not been a part of her life and had several other children. The worker found her biological father in a neighboring state. His new wife was very supportive of his involvement in his daughter’s life and located resources to help them. The father had suffered from depression and his home needed a new roof and flooring. He was diligent in completing his case plan and the workers sought donations from local churches to help repair the house. They were able to raise $3600 which covered all the costs. In addition, agency staff, people from the community and the foster parents helped with the repairs and brought food for the crew. This outpouring of support showed the father positive role models and gave him a new outlook. Now he’s motivated to continue improving himself. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has delayed the reunification hearings, but everyone is optimistic that he will regain custody once the crisis has passed.
NFPN plans to collect more information about both family preservation and reunification efforts during this time. We hope to provide data and best practices to guide programs when there are limitations on in-person contact. If you’d like to share your experiences, please contact me at 888-498-9047 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Michelle Reines, NFPN Executive Director