June is National Reunification Month, so we wanted to chat about the importance of familial reunification for children in out-of-home care. The goal of reunification is the child returning to the primary caregiver(s) once the child is safe.
It’s natural to feel a variety of emotions when children are removed from their homes. It’s a traumatic experience for all parties and no one wants to find themselves facing the reality of a child welfare case. Ideally, if a child needs to be removed from a home due to safety concerns, the hope is to get services and support in place as efficiently as possible to ensure a child spends as little time out of the home as possible.
Because it’s such an emotional subject, everyone has their own feelings and opinions on the matter. At the end of the day, the priority is child welfare and safety. For those not in the midst of a Department of Child Safety (DCS) case, you often hear an opinion along the lines of… “The child’s better off without their parent(s). They should know better.” Or “Give the child to someone who’ll do a better job.”
Child welfare is not so black and white. Removing a child from their primary residence and caregiver is done as a last resort and requires specific criteria to be met regarding the child’s immediate safety. In Arizona, DCS focuses on “in-home intervention,” which allows the caregiver to maintain custody of the child while they are meeting the necessary requirements and changes to keep the child safe. A service available to avoid removal and provide in-home support is known as a Family Preservation Team. These teams aid in monitoring for safety and providing supportive information to ensure the safety and well-being of the children in a home. Once a child is reunified with their family, they may have a Reunification Team put in place to support the transition back home. If determined the safety of a child is at risk, it may be determined a child cannot remain in the home, and DCS may remove the child.
Once removed, DCS focuses on familial reunification. Through a variety of supports, families are encouraged to address the risks that put the child in care, to begin with. When addressed sufficiently, the child may then return home.
As an outsider looking in, it can be confusing to watch an adult regain custody of a child removed from their care. Sometimes we may not be privy to all the information related to the child’s safety, protective factors, and family dynamics, thus we trust when children are returned home, they are going back to a safe environment.
Children love their parents, regardless of any flaws or mistakes the parent may have made. We all make mistakes.
When living in outside care, children are excited to speak with and visit their parents, but they’re also confused. Many times they don’t understand why they had to leave their home and what they know, and sometimes they believe it’s their fault they had to leave. They may even be angry at their parents because they understand what resulted in their current situation.
All families need and deserve support. For families working through the process of regaining custody of their child, they simply need a bit extra for the time being. It’s important to keep an open mind and open heart when supporting families through this challenging, and emotional process.
It is almost always the best choice to keep a child with a parent. Knowledge is power, and knowledge on parenting and child development is always expanding. Usually, we learn many of our parenting skills from the way were raised, which may not always be in the healthiest of environments. Child rearing methods are passed down through generations – some things stay the same, while some may change. In any event, each family has its own identification of “normal” and “safe.” Families deserve the opportunity to grow and solve problems in an effort to maintain the family unit.
If you’re interested in learning more about the importance of family reunification, check out these helpful resources developed by the American Bar Association.
Chelsea Grieve, Program Specialist with Child Crisis Arizona