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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