What is Family Reunification?
If you’re even somewhat familiar with the foster care system, it’s quite likely you’ve heard the term “family reunification” several times. You may have experience with, and/or opinions on, reunification, or maybe you wonder what it means.
Some people and agencies have a narrow view of reunification, saying it refers to when a child in foster care is returned to the parents/caretakers from whom they were removed (for simplicity’s sake, we will use the term “parents” instead of “parent,” though many children are indeed removed from single-parent homes). Some include those cases in which the child is returned to any members of their family of origin.
Reunification is the most common case plan goal at the outset of individual child welfare cases. When a child enters foster care, their parents are (with some exceptions) given a case plan outlining certain conditions they must meet to have their child returned to them.
The Purpose of the Case Plan in Family Reunification
The purpose of the case plan is to help the parents address the issues that led to their child’s removal. The successful completion of the case plan indicates to the judge that the parents can and will provide a safe, stable home environment for the child upon their return. While parents work their case plans, children typically remain in foster homes but are often placed with relatives once their homes are approved.
If the parent(s) are able to successfully work their case plan, their child is most often returned to them after a future court date. If the parents do not successfully work their case plan in a timely manner, their parental rights are often terminated and another safe, permanent option is sought for the child. That may mean adoption (sometimes by the current foster parents) or permanent placement with members of the child’s extended biological family, or some other arrangement.
How Foster Parents Support the Case Plan
As foster parents, there is an expectation to support the case plan. Though we may fall in love with a child and find ourselves wanting to give them a loving, permanent home, we mustn’t let our own wishes get in the way.
In supporting the case plan of reunification, however, we need to recognize that it is not our job to reunify the child. The parents must show the judge that they can provide their children with a safe, permanent home. Once the child is returned, the parents will need to parent their children well, hopefully with a strong support system (as we ALL need) in place. They have the opportunity during the reunification process to gain the tools necessary to do so.
A Call to Love Others
As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors. Our neighbors include not only the children God places in our home but their biological parents and extended family as well. When parents love their children and make efforts to reunify, we can and should encourage them and pray for them.
As Christians, we also need to remember that we serve a God who wants to reconcile people to Himself and restore people to right-relationship with Him and others. As His children, we can encourage and pray for the restoration of families if it is in the child’s best interests.
Remembering these simple, biblical truths can hopefully help us seek the good of both the child and their biological family, and enable us to look at family reunification, when done safely and in the child’s best interests, as something that heaven, and we, can rejoice over.
Family Reunification and Grief
It can be very painful for a foster family when a child reunifies. Many people say we need to guard our hearts with children placed in our homes, but I disagree. Children need to be loved, whether they are in our home for a night or a lifetime. When I see foster parents crying over a reunified child, I tell them that it means they loved the child well.
Continued Relationships are Possible
When a child reunifies, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to say goodbye for good, though. If you’ve developed a strong relationship with the child’s biological family, and they believe it is in the child’s best interests, you may remain a part of their lives and support them as the child grows up.