We celebrate a lot of months around here. Last month was National Foster Care Awareness Month. This month, June, is both National Pride Month and National Reunification Month. It may seem a little strange for a program designed to find forever families for children in foster care to draw attention to National Reunification Month. After all, if reunification had been possible or successful, many of the children in Indiana Adoption Program wouldn’t need adoptive families…right? We suggest looking at it a different way.
The field of child welfare, and specifically the process of reuniting children with birth families, is very nuanced. It’s not an easy thing, to make the decision to remove a child from their family of origin. And the decision to return a child to that family is equally, if not more, weighty. The goal is always, regardless of how it looks from the “outside perspective,” to keep families together. When that’s not possible, family intervention comes into play, and a child can end up being removed from their home in order to ensure their safety. But the goal is still to keep that family together. The tasks required may be different, but the goal remains the same.
So National Reunification Month gives us the chance to celebrate and honor all of the case managers, foster parents, social workers, judges, and others who actively work to keep families together, and to bring families back together after a disruption. We love celebrating the families who make the decision to adopt children and youth in Indiana Adoption Program. But we also love celebrating the families – birth families, foster families, friends who feel like family – who work toward reunification in every way possible.
L. was having a tough time at her foster home. Her birth mother was working hard to get her daughter back, and it was difficult to stay focused on that when she knew that L. was struggling in her placement. L.’s team decided to move L. to a different foster home, in hopes that some of the conflict L. was experiencing would subside. Once L. got settled into her new foster home, she blossomed! The difficult behaviors that the previous placement had complained about all but disappeared. In fact, L. progressed to the point where most of her providers determined that they no longer needed to be involved. L.’s foster mom reached out to L.’s birth mom and cultivated a relationship with her – they exchanged phone numbers, and foster mom shared photos and videos on a regular basis. L.’s birth mom felt connected and encouraged by the progress L. was making – and was able to focus on her tasks to move toward reunification. As the case began to move closer to reunification, L.’s foster mom used her per diem (money paid to the foster parent to help cover expenses of the foster child) to buy things that L. would need when she went home. The day L. was reunified with her mother, foster mom baked them a cake – and the two families have been celebrating with cake and laughter ever since.
K. was just 15 months old when he moved to his last foster home. He was a charmer, a typical toddler who delighted in all things Elmo, was hitting all his developmental milestones, and had a giggle that could soften anyone’s heart. His foster mom was pretty new to fostering – and she was nervous about meeting K.’s parents at their first team meeting. K.’s parents were gracious and kind, offering hugs and thanks. Foster mom’s anxiety ceased, and she and K.’s parents exchanged phone numbers. Over the next several months that K.’s case was progressing, the families bonded, joining for holiday programs at daycare, sharing videos, swapping tales of this rambunctious giggling child. They knew they were all committed to the same thing: Getting K. back where he belonged, with his family.
One day, 9 months after K. had been placed with foster mom, the two families attended court together and shared hugs when the judge granted reunification. Two days later, with K. home, foster mom joined K.’s family and friends to celebrate his second birthday. That was 5 years ago. Foster mom had 3 more placements after K., and adopted a little girl – just 3 weeks younger than K. – a couple of years ago. They are mischievous, giggling, independent souls who have been inseparable since the day they met, chasing each other around the Children’s Museum, testing out all the playgrounds in the area…doing all the things friends do. And foster mom and K.’s mom marvel at how a family separation that could have been devastating brought their two families together and gave them each a “mom friend” and support at the time that the both needed it most.
These are just two stories of hundreds we could share (but won’t, because, wow, what a long post that would be!) – but this month especially, we encourage you to seek out those in your own community who have supported or experienced reunification and learn from their experiences. It’s not always possible to have a successful reunification, but when it is, it can be a lovely thing to experience and participate in.
If you want to learn more about how you can actively support reunification, check out the following resources:
Resource Family Tip Sheet (American Bar Association)
Partnering with Birth Parents to Promote Reunification (Child Welfare Information Gateway)
Partnering with Relatives to Promote Reunification (Child Welfare Information Gateway)