One day, you’re sitting down to dinner when there’s a knock at the door. It’s a CPS investigator, inquiring about reports that you’ve been abusing or neglecting your child. As they enter your home, you feel confused, violated, maybe even angry. You’d never hurt your child. So why is CPS taking them away from you?
This is exactly what happened to Jason Bragg when his son was taken away from him.
Like many parents, Bragg had never hurt his son, though his struggles with addiction did make it hard to give him the care and attention that he deserved. Bragg knew he had problems, but he wanted help. Unfortunately, the system didn’t have the resources to provide it.
Parents of foster children aren’t bad people. They’re mothers and fathers who love their children. But because of an illness, addiction, lack of support, or the loss of a job, they’re unable to care for those they love the most.
When their children are taken away from them, they rely on the incredible generosity, understanding, and support of foster parents to help them become reunited. That’s where you come in.
Here’s what you’ll find on this page:
When a child returns to live with the family they were removed from, full time.
Put simply, reunification is the most common goal of foster care. Why? Because when children and their parents are able to reunify, families thrive.
Here’s how reunification helps families thrive:
- Improved Outcomes — The safety, security, and stability of returning to home life paves the way for futures in which children and their parents can thrive.
- Positive Impact On Parents — Reunification means parents have had the opportunity to get the help they need in order to care for their child and lead productive lives.
- Better Development — Children who can return to permanent, stable routines in loving homes are more likely to succeed in school and social settings because they aren’t occupied with thoughts of when they’ll move or switch homes again.
- Less Stress For Children — Moving is stressful on anyone, but especially for children. Reunification promotes better mental health, reduced anxiety, and happier lives for children.
- Ties To Extended Family — Children in foster care don’t just lose touch with parents, but with extended family members too. Through reunification, they maintain those connections, traditions, and cultural identities.
Despite these benefits, in Washington State, not nearly enough children are reunited. Because of a lack of resources, only 57% of children placed in out-of-home care were reunited with their parents within three years.
Foster parents play a critical role in raising that number by creating healthy environments where children feel safe and birth parents are supported.
Busting Reunification Myths
Reunification, and foster care in general, is a very emotional process. There’s a lot at stake and, because of that, there are a lot of myths flying around. Here’s what we have to say to some of the most common ones:
Myth 1: Birth parents are bad.
Truth: They’re moms and dads in need of help. Supporting reunification provides them the opportunity to get that help.
Myth 2: Children don’t want to go home.
Truth: The bond between a child and their parents is like no other. Reunification respects and empowers that bond.
Myth 3: Birth parents are unsafe.
Truth: The majority of children enter out-of-home care because of neglect, not abuse. Through reunification, parents learn how to create healthy environments for their children.
“Foster-to-Adopt” vs. Reunification
Foster-to-adopt: Pathway in which families enter foster care seeking to adopt a child.
Foster-to-adopt is a phrase you may have heard before. The idea has good intentions. Families want to provide permanent, safe, and loving homes for children who need them. But adoption through foster care is relatively uncommon and often problematic. Here’s why:
- No Support — Foster care agencies are not adoption agencies. They are committed to reunification.
- Reunification First — Reunification is the goal in most foster care cases.
- Low Probability — In Washington State, only 16% of children leave foster care through adoption.
Over 50% of children in Washington State are ultimately reunited with their families.
Families entering foster care hoping to adopt will find themselves working against a system designed to reunite families, not separate them. Adoption may feel like a quicker, more reliable solution, but the long-term benefits of reunification are far too valuable to ignore.
When Foster-To-Adopt Makes Sense
While uncommon, adoption through foster care does happen. Older youth (ages 11-17) are the most in need of permanent homes, as well as adoptive parents experienced in trauma and therapeutic parenting.
Preparing Yourself For Reunification
“Because you know that they have a culture. They have a family. They’re meant to be together. There is a true bond when it comes to having an actual family member be there for that child and understand the story that they came from.” — Sara Cunningham, Washington State foster mom
After finding out they couldn’t have children of their own, Sara Cunningham and her husband, Mike, decided to look into foster care. It wasn’t long before a six-month-old boy was placed with them. A few months later, they took in his sister.
The Cunningham family eventually adopted the siblings, but that was just the beginning of their foster care experience. They realized that supporting children and birth parents through reunification was a way to teach their adopted children about where they came from. But that’s never made it easy to let go of a child they’ve loved.
3 Ways To Get Ready For Reunification
As we see in the Cunningham’s story, reunification is never easy for foster parents. It’s an incredibly emotional experience that can include grief, depression, anger, and sadness, but it is critically beneficial for children and birth parents. The best way for foster parents to cope with that transition is to prepare as early as possible.
Understand the benefits of reunification before you become a foster parent and accept that it is the most likely outcome of your experience with a child.
Communicate Early And Often
Establish connections with birth parents as soon as possible. Positive relationships make the process easier and allow birth parents to share things with you that make you a better foster parent, like a child’s favorite foods or their bedtime routine.
Support groups, other foster families, private agencies, and non-profit organizations are there to make the process as easy as possible for everyone involved.
Support Services For Reunification
Reunification is hard, but you don’t have to do it alone. In Washington State, there are lots of resources for foster parents going through the reunification process. Here’s a small sample.
Treehouse — Offers academic services and school supplies to help close the achievement gap between foster youth and their peers.
Wishing Well — Provides clothing, supplies, and extracurricular experiences unavailable to most foster kids in Pierce County.
Fostering Family — Connects non-profit organizations and businesses, like Woodland Park Zoo, to causes that support foster families in Washington.
Agency Support Groups — Almost all Washington State foster care agencies have a special support group dedicated to their families.
The End Result: What Reunification Provides For Children
Whether your foster care experience with a child lasts just a few days or a few months, there’s nothing that can change the bond you may have with them.
Supporting reunification ensures that you don’t lose the opportunity to create other powerful bonds. Often, foster parents stay connected to families after reunification, celebrating holidays, birthdays, and babysitting.
Reunification allows you to create those lasting bonds, but it also ensures a foster child doesn’t lose more than just their parents. After all, there’s a lot at stake when a home is lost.
They Could Lose Their Culture
Daryle Conquering Bear was never reunified with his family or with his tribe. For years, he wasn’t able to attend tribal gatherings or learn about the traditions of his family.
They Could Lose Their Siblings
Many foster families are unable to take care of more than one child, which means siblings are often split up. When Raven’s mother was unable to reunify with her and her brother, the siblings were split up and raised separately.
They Could Lose Their Identity
Cortez lost his name when he was adopted. It was a loss that continued to leave a void in his life for his entire adolescence, especially through changes of schools, homes, and families in foster care.
Foster A Child’s Second Chance At Family
Reunification isn’t easy. When you’ve opened your heart and your home to a child, it’s an emotional experience to let them go. But it’s the best thing you can do for their future well-being.
Now that you’ve learned about the critical benefits of foster care, the next step is to understand the process of becoming a foster parent. Get started today by downloading our free resource: The Essential Guide To Becoming A Foster Parent In Washington State.
If you’re ready to start the process now, reach out and get matched with up to three agencies today: Become a Foster Parent
You Can Do This.
We Can Help.
The decision to become a foster parent in Washington State is one only you can make. It takes hard work, dedication, and patience to work through and with a system that isn’t perfect. But, for those that commit, a treasure is waiting.
Are you ready to start your journey? Make a request to be contacted by a Washington State agency now.