Reunification: The Lesser-Told Story of Foster Care

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For those not involved in child welfare, it’s a little-known fact that reunification is the goal of foster care whenever possible.

About half of all Wisconsin kids in out-of-home care permanently go back to their biological families. That’s in keeping with the national reunification average, which hovers around 50%*.

June is Reunification Month and a time to celebrate birth parents, like this one, working toward reunification.

Permanency is the Goal

Reunification with the biological family is one of the most common permanency plans for children in out-of-home care. Other types of permanency include transfer of legal guardianship to a relative, and adoption.

For children over the age of 16, a long-term foster care placement with an enduring parent or parents is considered permanency. If the young person is age 18 or older, a permanency plan includes YTA (Youth Transitioning to Adulthood) services.

A 12-Month Journey (More, or Less)

When a child is removed from their home, permanency planning begins immediately.

“Of the children who are reunified with their biological family, the majority go home within 12 months,” says Lisa Vega, SaintA Child Welfare Program Director. Sixty-six percent of SaintA placements are reunified within a one-year time frame, which is just shy of the state average, where 72%** of reunifications occur within 12 months.

“This is promising and it speaks volumes about the work biological families put into reunifying with their children,” says Vega.

Many Paths to Reunification

Although no two families are alike, most have one thing in common: They want their children back home. There are a number of Family Services available to help, as well as care coordination through Wraparound Milwaukee, where services are literally “wrapped around” a child and their family.

“The purpose of Wraparound is to empower families to help themselves through difficult times,” explains Coral Kline, SaintA Care Coordination Program Manager. “Families working to reunify might need mental health, social or other support services; we pull all those together for the individual family.”

There is also an innovative new model of Co-Parenting for families who qualify. A tenet of Quality Parenting Milwaukee (QPM), co-parenting is a peer mentoring relationship between biological and foster parents.

It brings children, foster parents and birth parents together so that progress can be made toward reunification. It’s a win-win: Biological parents learn new skills while enjoying visits with their children.

“When a strong bond is formed between the bio and foster parents, it can last as long as the case progresses,” says Carly Bolli, SaintA Family Services Coordinator, and trained staff mentor. “This shared parenting bond may even help speed up the path to reunification.”

Read more about Co-Parenting, also referred to as Fostering Relationships.

Get to know some reunified families, with this story of a reunification celebration from last June.

*Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2011
**2017 Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Report

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