A Quiet Celebration: Understanding Reunification

Jun 26 2018

family reunification

By Ashika Sethi

In honor of National Reunification Month, we are taking a look at family reunification and why it deserves to be celebrated.

When a child comes into the care of the State, it is our goal at CASA to help the family and the children attain the services they need to go back home, provided it’s in the child’s best interest. Of the 741 children who CASA of Travis County helped close cases for in 2017, 53% were reunified with their parent(s). That’s 395 children who were able to return home in order to bring families back together when it’s safe and in the best interest of the child.

Reunifications are stigmatized, and seldom celebrated in the same fashion by the public as adoptions. It can be hard for the public to understand parents who have abused or neglected their children (read this three-part series in which we break down the importance of reunification and the realities of child abuse and neglect to learn more). While this sentiment is understandable (and event exists among some CASA volunteers when they first begin their training), it’s important to be aware of the complicated and often poverty-related circumstances that usually bring a child into foster care. In 2017, of the confirmed allegations of abuse or neglect cases in Texas, 77% of those were neglect, which could be tied to extreme poverty.

Most families that have been reunified tend to want privacy during the reunification process. While these families have a right to feel proud that they’ve been able to work hard to obtain the necessary resources to better support their children, reunification may not necessarily be something that they would want to broadcast to the world, due to the stigma of having been involved in the Child Protective Services system in the first place.

“It’s important that we keep our minds open, try to respect the kids’ wishes, and work towards putting the family back together,” says Greg Trottie, Advocacy Program Manager and member of the Family Reunification Success Committee. “Reunification stories are just as noteworthy as adoption stories.”

During their tenure at CASA, some members of our staff have discussed the importance of reunifications for children and how much work it takes from all parties acting as a team to make sure the families we serve are receiving the necessary resources in order thrive.

“There was a case meeting in which the parents, attorneys, CASA, CPS, and several family members spoke honestly and openly about the parents’ struggles, how far they have come in the case, and a new concern that had recently arisen. It was clear that everyone was there wanting to achieve the same goal – keeping kids safe and making the family successful – and trust existed between the family and all the professionals, despite everyone having different roles,” says Laura Honsig, Child Advocacy Specialist. “It was a beautiful moment in which a team came together to do everything possible to support the family. This is what the system is supposed to do!”

“For families I’ve served that have been able to reunify, it seems the two most important elements are: having all the resources necessary to make it work and secondly, a team of people who believe in the parent’s ability and shows support,” says Elizabeth Throop, Family Engagement Specialist. “I’ve had several moms with meth addictions and it seemed there was little hope in the beginning of the case. But with the help and support of their own families, all the right resources wrapped around them, and support from the team of child advocates, they were able to turn their lives around for the better.”

“I worked on a case where the children were living with their grandparents while the parents were obtaining services in order to hopefully reunify with their kids. Through the services CPS was providing, the mom was diagnosed with PTSD due to trauma she had experienced as a child,” says Audrey Sherman, Associate Director of Advocacy. “The family was able to move on from this rough time in their lives because the mom had a treatable diagnoses and didn’t have to rely on self-medicating with methamphetamines anymore. The family’s world was opened up.”

We at CASA believe every child who has been in the foster care system deserves a safe and permanent home. If it is safe and in the child’s best interest, our first goal for that permanent home will be reunification with family. It takes hard work and persistence for a parent to attain the help and services they need to reunify with their kids. If these parents are showing improvements, we must trust that in most cases their children would benefit from being back at home with their family once again. It’s heartening to see parents improve themselves in order to provide for their children, and we at CASA believe family reunification can be a beautiful process to watch unfold.