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Factors associated with reunification success or breakdown

As well as engaging the family, comprehensive assessment, strong safety and support networks, the inclusion of a range of support services, a number of other factors contribute to effective reunification. The following table offers a summary of key messages from research which identify factors associated with successful reunifications or reunification breakdown:

Factors associated with successful reunifications Factors associated with reunification breakdowns
Children went to a changed household  
  Children were over the age of 10
  Previous attempts at reunification were unsuccessful
  Children have behavioural and emotional problems
Thorough assessment, including case history Insufficient assessment and workers did not have a clear knowledge of the child’s history
Adequate preparation for return home for child and parents Inadequate planning and children left in unsafe circumstances for too long without support or intervention
Specialist services were provided for the child and parent Service provision was not adequate, provided too late, not intensive enough or ended too soon
  Parental problems had not been addressed and remained unresolved or hidden
Foster carers or residential workers supported and worked with the parents and children towards return home and were available to help afterwards  
Parents and older children had informal support from their network  
Children returned to parents only after sufficient time had elapsed for the problem that led to the initial intervention to have been addressed  
There was consistent and purposeful intervention, support and monitoring  
Non-negotiables were established with parents before return home  
There was clear evidence of parental change Parents were ambivalent about the return and/or isolated

(Wilkins and Farmer, 2015)

Australian research (Panozzo et al, 2007) supports the findings outlined in the table above and highlights the following factors as particularly relevant to successful reunification:

  • culturally informed and culturally safe interventions and supports for the child and their family
  • frequent contact between the child and parents which is mindful of quality of interaction and increases in time
  • an active network and care team surrounds the parents

Risks to successful reunification in the Australian context also reflect the table above. Factors include:

  • the longer a child remains in care, the less likely reunification will occur
  • parents and families that have a closed system, lack of network and social isolation
  • families who experience difficulties with poverty, chronic mental illness, ingrained substance abuse and housing
  • children who have physical health problems, disabilities or high level of behavioural support needs
  • where poor attachment between a parent and child is observed
  • children living in rural or remote areas.

These factors for successful or unsuccessful reunification are not reasons to reunify or not reunify a child. Use strengths-based practice and consider ways to build on identified indicators of success for each family. Be aware of the indicators for failed reunification and consider what strategies can help a family mitigate those risks.

Having looked at essential elements of reunification and factors associated with whether reunification of a child to the care of one or both parents is likely to be successful or not, attention can now turn to more specific areas of practice which support reunification.

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