Children in Foster Care

By James G. Barber; Paul H. Delfabbro | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

The predictors of family reunification

Introduction

In the previous chapter, we reported that there was little evidence to support a causal connection between family contact and family reunification. This finding raises the vital question: what does enhance the likelihood of reunification? As discussed in Chapter 1, child protection jurisdictions throughout the world continue to place a very high priority on returning foster children to their families of origin as soon as possible wherever feasible. It is therefore expected that a significant proportion of worker time and resources will be directed towards the implementation of service plans to facilitate reunification. For this reason, identifying which children are most likely to go home and the factors that contribute to reunification have become a central focus of social work research (Courtney 1994; Fanshel and Shinn 1978). By understanding the differential probability of reunification in alternative care samples, it may be possible to target time and resources better. Although the issue of reunification has been subject to investigation for many years, research findings have been many and varied, making it difficult to form a consistent view of what factors enhance reunification success. Nevertheless, several general conclusions can be reached. Firstly, reunification appears to be much more probable in the short term than in the long term. In other words, the chance of reunification decreases the longer children remain in care (Fanshel 1975; Fernandez 1999). Secondly, children who are in regular contact with their families while in care are more likely to go home (see Chapter 8; Bullock, Little and Millham 1993; Farmer and Parker 1991). A third factor is the nature and quality of support provided by the alternative care system. Specifically, reunification is much more likely when there are consistent interactions between birth families and social workers (Berry 1992; Schuerman, Rzepnecki and Johnson 1994), when there are well-established case-management procedures (Turner 1984), when planned services are completed by birth families (Lewis, Walton and Fraser 1995; Nugent, Carpenter and Parks 1993) and when the problems leading to children entering care are more amenable to change. For example, Courtney

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