When children are separated from their families, the first goal is to reunify them when it is safe enough to do so. Child welfare agencies implement many strategies that build on family strengths and address safety concerns. Strategies may include family engagement, maintaining family and cultural connections, connecting families to evidence-based services in the community, regular and frequent visits among family members and with the worker, and parent education, among others.
Children from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds are more likely to have longer stays within the child welfare system and are less likely to exit foster care through reunification or other forms of permanency. Increasing reunification rates for children and families of color is one way to address racial disproportionality and disparity in child welfare. Reunification services for diverse families must be strengths-based, culturally responsive, and readily available and accessible to parents. In addition, placement of children with kin or with resource families that are in or near the children's neighborhoods may enable increased family time—a necessity for achieving reunification goals.
Returning children home often requires intensive, family-centered services to support a safe and stable family. Services should be tailored to address the issue(s) that brought the family to the attention of the child welfare system. Shared Parenting is one preferred practice in which resource parents and birth parents create a relationship in effort to encourage regular and informal connections to increase positive outcomes for families. The following resources offer an array of practices and strategies that support family reunification efforts in child welfare, including State and local examples.
- Engaging parents in reunification
- Tailored services to support family reunification
- Preventing placement reentry
- Reinstating parental rights
Achieving Permanency Through Reunification (PDF - 248 KB)
Plummer Youth Promise (2022)
Describes a national training program that uses the latest knowledge, research, and interventions to help organizations and agencies achieve permanency for children in foster care through reunification.
All in for Reunification [Video]
American Bar Association, Center on Children and the Law (2021)
Focuses on Reunification Month to gain interest from States to honor families and professionals.
Episode 64: Reunification [Podcast]
Child Welfare Information Gateway (2021)
Examines racial disparities in reunification rates and how child welfare professionals and communities can ensure reunification is the primary goal when children must be removed from their families.
The Path to Racial Equity in Child Welfare: Valuing Family and Community (PDF - 1,642 KB)
Alliance for Children’s Rights (2021)
Discusses strategies to address racial disproportionality in child welfare and explores policies that lead to family separation, and ways reunification can be used to increase racial equity.
Reimagining Reunification: Expanding Family and Community Connections for Youth
Schomburg & Waller (2022)
Family Room Blog
Describes successful reunification strategies for youth and highlights opportunities to promote family, safety, stability, and community.
Casey Family Programs
Provides resources and publications on supporting family reunification, including topics such as fostering birth and foster parent relationships and strategies to reunite families with substance use disorders.
Reunification: Bringing Your Children Home From Foster Care
California Evidence-based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare
Provides information on programs designed to support the reunification of children and families after child welfare involvement.
Supporting Families Through Reunification and Beyond [Webinar]
American Bar Association, Center on Children and the Law (2022)
Examines key areas of child welfare practice to support family reunification: family team meetings; written conditions for return; discharge planning and post-reunification supports; and caseworker/family relationships.
What Factors Support Family Reunification?
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau (2021)
Children’s Bureau Express, 22(6)
Shares examples of child welfare interventions and practices that can help support successful reunification.
African America/White Disparities in the Tennessee Foster Care System (PDF - 113 KB)
The Center for State Child Welfare Data (2018)
Examines whether children of color are more likely to enter the foster care system in Tennessee and explores rates of exit from foster care to reunification and reunification disparities by race.
A Case Study in Public Child Welfare: County-Level Practices That Address Racial Disparity in Foster Care Placement (PDF - 309 KB)
Pryce, Lee, Crowe, Park, McCarthy, & Owens (2019)
Journal of Public Child Welfare, 13(1)
Shares a study which examined promising practices to decrease racial disparities, including preventive services and options for relative care placement as a way to increase reunification with families.
Episode 35: Foster Care - A Path to Reunification [Podcast]
Child Welfare Information Gateway (2019)
Presents information and lessons learned from community-based and government organizations that focus on family support and reunification. Each podcast includes a full transcript and related resources.
Part 1: Center for Family Life [Podcast]
Shares the work of the Center for Family Life, a program that aims to stabilize families by providing an array of neighborhood-based family and social services in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
Part 2: San Diego County [Podcast]
Explores all the partnerships, trainings, and coordination within San Diego County’s Children’s Services. Listeners will learn about trauma-informed assessment tools, a collaboration with a county-based community college to support training, and the experiences of birth families and older youth.
The On the Way Home Reunification Program
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau (2022)
Children’s Bureau Express, 23(5)
Profiles a reunification program that targets middle and high school-age youth who have or are at risk of having emotional or behavioral disorders.
Path to Reunification
Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services
Reviews the family reunification process for parents, including the importance of creating and following a case plan along with programs that can help families reunify.
Permanency Matters: Reunification (PDF - 2,646 KB)
Virginia Department of Social Services (2018)
Provides Virginia reunification statistics, information on a practice model that focuses on the relationship between foster parents and families of origin, and tips for partnering with parents to ensure quality family visits and promote reunification.