When children are removed from their families, the most common goal is to reunify the family and about half of the children removed are actually reunified with their families.  What can be done to improve this outcome so that more children can safely return home?

The Child Welfare Information Gateway addressed the issue of reunification in a recent publication.  Gateway reported these factors result in children being less likely to reunify:

  • Being placed in kinship care
  • Spending longer time in care or experiencing more placements
  • Being African-American
  • Having health, mental health, or behavioral problems (child)
  • Coming from a single-parent family
  • Receiving an initial placement in a group home or emergency shelter

Gateway’s best practice for reunifying families include the following:

Comprehensive Family Assessment:  Assessment has been linked to positive outcomes including increased reunification and reductions in maltreatment reoccurrence.  The National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) has one of the few reliable and valid family assessment tools for reunification.

For information on the NCFAS-G+R family assessment tool and training visit

Intensive Family Reunification Services:  Various studies show that intensive services for reunifying families are effective.  NFPN’s largest reunification study found that various factors such as race, marital status, employment, substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence did not hinder reunifying families through intensive services.  Factors that had a positive effect on the durability of the reunification were concrete services, step-down services, and father involvement.

To read the full research article visit

NFPN has a reunification model that has been used by several states in developing their model of intensive services.

To view the reunification model visit

Frequent and regular visits of parents with children:  Children who have regular visits with their families are more likely to reunify.  Hess and Proch (1993) portray visits as the heart of reunification.  Parent/child visits are important because:

  • Visiting maintains family relationships: only if relationships are maintained will the family be reunited.
  • Visiting empowers and informs parents: during visits, parents are reassured about their ability to act as parents and to provide at least some care for their children. Visits also allow parents to identify strengths and weaknesses as parents. Visiting provides both parents and children an opportunity to practice new behaviors and skills.
  • Visiting enhances children’s wellbeing: the trauma of a child’s separation from the parent and feelings of abandonment are decreased, and the improved psychological health of the child enhances the child’s developmental progress.
  • Visiting provides a transition to home: by observing family interactions during visits caseworkers can identify issues that must be resolved prior to reunification, determine the family’s progress, address the timing and sequence for returning children, and identify issues that must continue to be addressed following reunification.

To read more about parent/child visits, especially focusing on father-child visits see

Foster Parent Support of Birth Parents: Foster parents can have a big impact on reunification by supporting the birth parents.  For an excellent tip sheet on how foster parents can help, visit

To view the entire Gateway document visit:

For  information on reunification models, visit the Preserving Families Blog at


Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

Engaging Fathers

The National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) has provided resources, curricula, and training on father involvement since 2000.  The Basic Fatherhood Training Curriculum was developed as part of a demonstration project in which child welfare social workers received training and assistance to engage fathers in their children’s lives.  The project was successful and was one of the first to show that training practitioners is a key component of engaging fathers.

Additional studies over the past two decades show that early engagement of fathers is critical to engaging and involving them in their children’s lives. Early engagement is also important because the practitioner’s efforts and the father’s involvement tend to peak within about six months.

To assist practitioners with early engagement of fathers, the following is a six-week plan for engagement of non-residential fathers whose children are involved in the child welfare system:

Week 1:  

Identify the father of the child

Obtain a physical address for the father

Share with the mother how a father can be a resource

Contact the father: schedule face-to-face meeting

Week 2: 

Complete assessment form on father’s current involvement

Explore with father how he can be a resource to the child

If father is a limited resource, ask if his extended family could be a resource for the child

Identify services and resources that the father needs

Arrange a visit between the father and child

Week 3:     

Provide information and discuss with the father the developmental stage/needs of the child

Suggest activities that the father and child can do together

Discuss with the mother what the father’s involvement with the child can do to help her                       (child care, co-parenting, respite)

Connect both parents to services and resources that include addressing their co-parenting                     roles

Include father in the case plan

Week 4:    

Assist the father with scheduling a visit to the child’s school (pre-school, nursery)

Discuss with the father how services and resources are helping him to become more                            involved in the child’s life

Ask the child (if appropriate age) what his father’s involvement means to the child

Week 5:     

Discuss with each parent (or arrange a meeting with the father and mother) their view of                      the father’s involvement, assist with setting up a schedule for the father’s time with the                        child, and help establish methods/frequency of communication between the parents

Explore with the father what other services and resources are needed for him to maintain                     involvement in the child’s life

Week 6:    

Complete the assessment form on father involvement to determine progress and areas still                    needing improvement

Connect the father to any additional needed services

Explain to the father the importance of and benefits to the child of the father’s ongoing                        and permanent involvement

For information on the Basic Fatherhood Training Curriculum visit

For additional resources on father involvement visit

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director


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