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Reunification: The goal of foster care

Learn why the first goal of foster care is always to reunify children with their parents in a safe and stable environment.

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The first goal of foster care is always to reunify children with their parents in a safe and stable environment. But, as a prospective foster parent, you may have questions about why children are separated from their parents and how you would support that reunification plan.

When does a child need foster care?

Children enter foster care when a judge determines it is not safe for them to remain at home with their parents. Common reasons for this judgement include domestic violence, substance abuse by a parent, unsafe or inadequate housing, abuse, or neglect.

Children are placed in a licensed foster home while their parents follow a court-ordered plan that moves them toward greater stability. A typical foster care placement is about one year, although some judges will extend this time up to 18 months if doing so will increase the chances of success when a child returns home.

What are parents typically doing while their children are in care?

Most are working on an individual treatment plan that will allow them to reunify with their child(ren). If the underlying issue is substance abuse, for example, a parent’s plan could include treatment or rehabilitation. Other plans might include securing stable employment, finding appropriate housing, or attending parenting classes.

How does reunification work?

When children are in foster care, they typically have regular, supervised visits with their parents. As parents progress toward their assigned goals, the reunification process begins with unsupervised visits, overnight visits, and weekend visits. Once the child(ren) return home, parents work with a social worker who provides in-home services and additional support to help the parents and child(ren) make a smooth transition.

What do foster parents need to understand about reunification?

Transition is hard for most people, and it’s especially tough for children.

Parents may feel vulnerable or fearful that their children could be removed again.

A child’s behaviors may escalate while they are living between two homes. They will have strong feelings about what is happening that they may not be able to express in words.

Foster parents often express both joy and grief because they have become attached to children who have been part of their family. Yet, it’s because of this love that they long to see children safely reunited with their parents and siblings.

How can foster parents help parents and children stay connected during the foster placement?

We encourage foster parents to cheer on parents as they work toward reunification.

Foster families will often bring a child’s artwork or school project to a parent visit. Some foster parents keep a journal about what the child is learning and doing each week. Particularly for parents who have little or no support network, it can make a huge difference for them to know someone other than their case worker is behind them.

Are you willing to provide a loving home for a child, while supporting the healthy reunification of the family? We’d love to talk to you about becoming a foster parent.

Become a foster parent