Reunifying families when it is safe enough to do so requires child welfare workers to be able to identify the safety issue that brought the family to the attention of the child welfare system. They must also recognize family strengths and protective factors and find community resources that will meet the individual family needs. Child welfare workers will also need to assess safety, protective factors, and service needs to implement interventions that appropriately address the needs of the family and alleviate the safety concern that separated the child or youth from their families. This requires workers to be equipped with information on myriad issues that often require referrals to specialized providers for support.
Substance abuse treatment for parents who have misused substances; interventions that address the specific dynamics of families affected by domestic violence; or services tailored for parents who have a disability or for families who are impacted by the corrections systems are just several examples of the types of circumstances that require specialized expertise—or at least a specialized understanding—to effectively support families, increase their protective capacities, and move towards reunification.
View resources on this page to find out more information about providing services designed to help reunify families who have been impacted by:
Plans of Safe Care for Infants With Prenatal Substance Exposure and Their Families
Reasonable and Active Efforts, and Substance Use Disorders: A Toolkit for Professionals Working With Families In or At Risk of Entering the Child Welfare System (PDF - 378 KB)
National Quality Improvement Center for Collaborative Community Court Teams (2019)
Provides information for legal professionals about the reasonable and active efforts requirements, examples of how to meet those standards, and ways to use reasonable efforts to support families affected by substance use disorders.
Reunification of Young Children of Color Who Were Removed Due to Parental Substance Use
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau (2021)
Children’s Bureau Express, 22(6)
Describes a study that examined differences in the number and proportion of foster care entries and the likelihood of family reunification based on substance removal as a factor for removal.
Supporting Recovery and Reunification: An Early Intervention Collaborative Response [Webinar]
Children and Family Futures (2019)
Presents a webinar that covers interventions for parents in recovery as they transition out of a treatment program and reunify with their children.
What Are Some of the Strategies Being Used to Reunite Families With Substance Use Disorders?
Casey Family Programs (2017)
Highlights key issues child welfare agencies must consider when developing strategies to support reunification with families in substance use treatment and recovery.
Child Protection in Families Experiencing Domestic Violence (2nd ed.)
Domestic Violence and the Child Welfare Professional: Tips on Decision- Making
Capacity Building Center for States (2017)
Discusses domestic violence decision-making, including caseworker response, court petitions, behaviorally-focused service plans, legal interventions, and abuse substantiation. Also read Tips on Engaging Families.
Domestic Violence: A Primer for Child Welfare Professionals
The Impact of Domestic Violence in the Child Welfare System (PDF - 643 KB)
Examines how immigrant families affected by domestic violence may face unique barriers to reunification and how child welfare professionals, along with court professionals, can support these families.
Opportunities for Progress: Better Serving Families With Domestic Violence Through the Family First Prevention Services Act (PDF - 3,369 KB)
Center for the Study of Social Policy (2019)
Explains the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, which created new opportunities for domestic violence and child welfare agencies to work together to serve and engage families. This paper outlines challenges to this partnership and highlights best practices for supporting children and families.
Disability Does Not Equal Incompetence: Removing Biases Against Parents and Caregivers With Disabilities in Child Welfare
A Second Chance, Inc. (2020)
Describes biases toward parents with disabilities who are involved with the child welfare system and reviews barriers to reunification for this population.
Parents With Disabilities in Child Welfare Agencies and Courts
Americans With Disabilities Act National Network
Reviews laws requiring child welfare agencies and courts to provide full and equal access to programs, including reunification services, for parents with disabilities.
Parent-Centered Planning for Parents With Disabilities (PDF - 387 KB)
Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (2020)
Practice Notes, 36
Presents a parent-centered model to help parents with disabilities plan for raising their children. The model includes four phases that help parents work with child welfare professionals to set long-term parenting goals and make steps toward achieving their goals.
Promising Practices to Support Parents With Intellectual Disabilities (PDF - 318 KB)
Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (2019)
Practice Notes, 34
Shares interventions to support parents with intellectual disabilities who are involved with the child welfare system, including those that focus on building parenting skills and increasing social supports to work toward reunification. Also read Policy Strategies for Improving Child Welfare Services for Parents With Disabilities and Their Children (PDF - 285 KB).
Working With Persons With Disabilities (PDF - 444 KB)
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (2020)
Provides information on working with parents with disabilities and describes how to provide necessary accommodations so that communication, the development of the case plan, evaluation, and reunification efforts are adapted to the parent’s needs.
Child Welfare Practice With Families Affected by Parental Incarceration
Engaging Incarcerated Parents
Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition New York
Provides recommendations for child welfare professionals to engage parents who are incarcerated, including allowing space for questions and understanding the family context beyond the incarceration experience.
Guide for Incarcerated Parents Who Have Children in the Child Welfare System
Helps parents involved in the criminal justice system understand the child welfare system, maintain connections with their children, and understand steps required for reunification.
Practice Guidelines: Engaging Incarcerated Parents in Reunification Cases (PDF - 59 KB)
State of Arizona Department of Child Safety (2017)
Offers practice guidelines to help child welfare staff engage parents who are incarcerated in reunification efforts.
Visiting a Parent in Prison [Video]
Sesame Street in Communities
Presents a video that can be used by caregivers and professionals to explain to children what visiting a parent in prison may be like, including rules that may apply and changes to the parent’s appearance.