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What Are the Steps to Family Reunification within the Foster Care System?

Basics to Family Reunification

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Family reunion of father and daughter
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Those interested in becoming foster parents learn that a big part of their job as foster parents is to aid family reunification. There are numerous steps to a family reunification plan and each state, country, and foster care agency handles it differently. Here is a rough idea of some basics to family reunification. Again, your agency may differ.

  1. Case plan goals, objections, and court orders. Most birth parents have numerous objectives that they must fulfill in order to have their children placed back within their home. The objectives, which are often court ordered, are also included within the case plan goal toward family reunification and may include the following:
    • drug/alcohol classes or treatment, as needed
    • random urine analysis if drugs and alcohol are an issue within the family
    • maintain proper, safe housing
    • maintain proper, legal employment
    • keep distance from past abusive people in their lives, i.e. ex:ex-spouses or boy/girl friends, friends, etc.
    • attend needed classes, such as parenting, nutrition, or budgeting classes, etc.
    • attend therapy
    • take assessments as required
    • attend and participate in all case plan meetings

  2. Progression of visits. As time passes and the child remain in foster care, visits between the child and birth parents will steadily increase in frequency and moderation. It's not uncommon for visits to move from supervised, weekly visits to monitored, weekly visits to unsupervised, weekly visits. Then they will progress from overnights and weekends to several days in a row. The visits are often increased as birth parents complete court orders, and have shown to be appropriate during previous supervised and monitored visits.
  3. Court review of case plan goals. Court dates give the judge a chance to review the completion of court orders and read reports from the social workers, CASA, GAL, and foster parents on how the case is progressing and how the parents and children are handling the different transitions.
  4. Role of the foster parent. As a foster parent, you help with family reunification through the following actions:
  5. Easing back into family reunification through visitation. The increase in visits leads into a natural transition of the child returning back home. This process may take several months.
  6. Home checks with social workers and court officials. Once the child is back home with birth family a social worker, and/or sometimes court officials, check in monthly with the family for a set amount of time. For example, in Kansas, the family is monitored for 18 months after returning home. Again, each state, country, or agency may have different criteria and check points once the family is reunified.
  7. Case closed and family successfully reunified. At the end of the monitored time the case is closed and social workers no longer visit the family.

The process of family reunification is a difficult and long journey for most families. There are numerous steps involved. Finding and keeping a job, attending visits and therapy, and maintaining sobriety is a lot to grasp at once. May every foster parent have a bit of compassion on the birth parent that is struggling with this process.

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