Foster Care and Reunification

Foster Care and Reunification

How much do you know about reunification as it relates to children in foster care? Reunification is more than a child returning to their biological family after a period spent in the child welfare system. A reunification is considered successful if there is no reentry into the system. 

Did you realize that is the primary goal of foster care? To provide safety and security while the family does the work that allows children to permanently return to their biological home?

To quote Kait from Love & Mother Co., “The goal is ALWAYS reunification.”

In 2019, approximately 63% of children were reunited with birth families within 12 months of entering care. 77% of children reentered care within 12 months of a prior foster care experience. Over the past 5 years, these statistics have gotten worse. (

Separation from family creates trauma – for both the child and the family. In an ideal system, both the children and the parents – biological and foster – are provided the support they need. According to the Coalition for Children Youth and Families, cooperation and connection between foster and birth parents is one of the best indicators of positive outcomes for children and youth in foster care.

It is critical to prioritize family time. This is the time that birth parents are able to visit with their child while they are in foster care. These visits should begin as soon as is safely possible after a child is removed from their home. 

When a child is removed from care, the process to reach reunification should be family centered. A holistic approach is important: poverty, neglect, abuse, substance use, mental health, and other areas must all be considered. It is important that the families are able to see foster care as a support to them rather than a punishment. 

The best way to do that is to tailor services to the family’s specific needs. Provide focused services, encourage family engagement, find the root causes of the challenges, and help develop strategies to support the family long after reunification.

While it seems common knowledge that a child being removed from their home and placed in foster care is traumatic, here’s something you may not have considered: The process of the child returning to their birth home may result in further trauma. Talking to kids about what is happening with their reunification can help reduce that trauma. 

When reunification with the birth family isn’t possible or takes longer than desired, kinship care is often the preferred alternative. At very least, efforts can be made to engage kin as a source of support for both the biological and foster parents, as well as the child. 

“Because you know that they have a culture. They have a family. They’re meant to be together. There is a true bond when it comes to having an actual family member be there for that child and understand the story that they came from.” — Sara Cunningham, foster parent. (Washington Fosters)

One of the best ways to ensure successful reunification is for the entire team serving the child’s needs to collaborate. There are caseworkers, attorneys, court appointed special advocates, guardians ad litem, judges, school teachers, therapists, doctors, coaches, church volunteers, and both birth and foster parents. When those individuals come together to work as a team for the best interests of the child, there is a much greater chance of successful reunification. 

“You have an opportunity not only to help a kiddo be successful long-term, but you have the potential to help restore a family.” — Jay Priebe. A former foster child and previous CEO of foster care support organization, Hand in Hand. (Washington Fosters)

So many people are doing incredible work to serve and support the vulnerable children in our communities. Some of the work is seen and others work behind the scenes. If you are one of those people, regardless of where you serve – THANK YOU!! 


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