Written by Washington Foster Team
When children are placed in foster care, their lives are turned upside down.
The same is true for their parents, who must overcome their own personal challenges and the challenges of the foster care system to prove that they can become better parents. With the right support, everyone can get back on track. Foster parents provide that support through reunification.
New foster families will quickly learn that reunification is a critical part of the foster care process. But many aren’t sure what reunification means or what their role in reunification is. That’s why we’ve created this basic guide. Hopefully, it answers a few of your bigger questions.
For a more complete dive into the topic of reunification, check out our latest free resource: Reunify And Thrive: Why Reunification Is Critical To Foster Care
What Is Reunification (In Foster Care)?
Reunification offers a second chance for parents and children to have a stable, happy, healthy family life.
Put simply, reunification happens when children return to live with their birth parents full-time. Those getting into foster care need to understand that reunification is the most common goal in foster care.
Does Reunification Actually Work?
Studies have shown that reunification significantly improves permanency outcomes for children and birth parents. After reunification, children do better in school, parents do better at work, and families thrive long-term.
Of course, there are exceptions. Sometimes, parents simply do not have the ability to properly care for their children. When that happens, foster parents may step in to offer children a permanent home. But adoption is rarely a first-choice in foster care.
But What If I Want To Foster-To-Adopt?
Some families may look at foster care as an alternate path to adoption. And, while it’s true some children in foster care are adopted, it’s nowhere near the norm. In Washington State, 50% of children in out-of-home care were reunited with their parents. Only 16% were adopted.
Because of the benefits of reunification, agencies, caseworkers, and birth parents commit to that end result. Foster parents who want to adopt are bound to struggle in a system that’s designed to reconnect families rather than separate them permanently.
What Does The Reunification Process Look Like?
Every reunification is different. Some take months while others may feel like they only take a day. In most cases, it’s a gradual process.
The first step in any reunification is a meeting with the child’s parents. This initial meeting should happen as soon after placement as possible. Early connections help parents and foster parents establish a relationship so they can work together to make the child feel as safe and secure as possible.
As parents work on getting the help they need to bring their children back home, foster parents support their efforts. That support can take many forms. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a phone call to keep birth parents updated on how their child is doing.
When parents are ready to bring their child home, a gradual shift in daily routines allows them to try out the new living situation slowly. Over time, children spend more and more time at home, until they eventually make a permanent move.
In ideal circumstances, the connections established between parents and foster parents create an opportunity for continued visits beyond reunification. Many foster parents remain a part of a child’s life long after they’ve gone home.
How Do I Prepare For Reunification?
Even when foster parents understand the reasons for reunification, it doesn’t make the process any easier emotionally. Mentally preparing for the inevitability of losing a child that you’ve loved and welcomed into your home will help you, and the child, through the difficult transition.
You can prepare for reunification by:
- Accepting it as the most likely and best possible outcome for your child.
- Connecting with parents to support them in their own journey toward reunification.
- Reaching out for support from other foster care families, your agency, and non-profit groups.
Reunification will never be easy for foster parents, but with the right support, it’s far more manageable. Learn more about reunification and why it’s so important for foster children by reading our free guide, Reunify And Thrive: Why Reunification Is Critical To Foster Care.