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The Road to Reunification: Challenges and Triumphs

National Reunification Month, observed annually in June since 2010, is a time to recognize the families and people assisting those families as they strengthen bonds, improve communication, gain access to supportive resources, and restore their family unit. Family Partners is a service provided by Children’s Aid Society of Alabama to assist families on their reunification journey.

Supporting safe and stable families by reuniting children involved in foster care with their first family homes often requires intensive, family-centered services. These services address the issues that resulted in the child entering foster care. Many different strategies build on family strengths throughout the reunification process, including:

  • Family Engagement: Keeping families involved and connected.
  • Maintaining Cultural Connections: Ensuring children keep ties to their cultural backgrounds.
  • Community-Based Services: Linking families to evidence-based services in their communities.
  • Regular Visits: Ensuring frequent and meaningful contact.
  • Parent Education: Providing parents with the skills they need to care for their children.

Positive relationships between caregivers, caseworkers, and older youth increase the chances of successful reunification. Foster caregivers, whether relatives or not, play a crucial role by supporting both the children and their families. Building strong partnerships with birth parents from the start is vital. The Child Welfare Information Gateway shared an informative guide to help foster parents promote successful reunification. Open and honest communication helps create a supportive environment for our children in care and their families.

Family Partners offers a reliable helping hand through the reunification process. Our Family Partners team works with families involved with the Department of Human Resources (DHR) due to abuse or neglect. Team members provide intensive support for 6-9 months, visiting families in their homes twice a week or more as needed.

Many of the families referred to Family Partners have lengthy histories of trauma, domestic violence, mental illness, and substance abuse. Family Partners tailors their services to meet each family’s unique needs, offering individual and family therapy, coordinating community services, and providing relapse prevention and recovery coaching.

In addition to therapy and coaching, Family Partners addresses practical challenges such as homelessness, employment, financial stress, and education or medical concerns. They also teach independent living skills, such as parenting, anger management, budgeting, and household management. For three months after case closure, Family Partners continues to check in and provide necessary support and referrals.

Recently, Family Partners began working with a woman who had removed herself and her children from a long-term abusive relationship. She knew that she had made the best decision she could, yet she was struggling to support her two sons, aged 11 and 1. Overwhelmed, she eventually turned to substance abuse. She then lost custody of her children when her situation became untenable. Family Partners stepped in at a crucial time to help her rebuild her life.

This mother began recovery coaching, therapy for depression and relationship issues, and family therapy to improve communication with her oldest son. Family Partners also helped her apply for financial assistance, find a job, and taught her reasonable home management and parenting skills. With their support, she was reunified with her children within five months.

Her success story didn’t end there. She secured a scholarship for an IT certification program, found daycare for her youngest son, and established special education services for her oldest child. After nine months of support and an additional three months of aftercare, she achieved multiple IT certifications and obtained a secure, well-paying job with health benefits. Her oldest son is now on the honor roll, and her youngest is thriving in daycare. She remains sober, active in her son’s school, and continues to further her education.

National Reunification Month is not just about celebrating successes; it’s also about recognizing the ongoing needs of families experiencing crisis. Many families rely heavily on food banks, utility assistance, and rental aid. Consider supporting partner organizations like the Community Foundation of Birmingham, United Way of Central Alabama, and other local groups, as well as community food banks, to help support families as they do the important work needed to rebuild stronger foundations. Donations of household items such as kitchen supplies, sheets, towels, and blankets are also greatly needed, and these outlets will help coordinate the collection of these goods.

The road to reunification is filled with challenges, but the triumphs make the journey worthwhile. Through dedicated services like Family Partners, families are given the tools and support they need to overcome obstacles and reunite. By coming together as a community, we can ensure that more families have the opportunity to thrive.

 

Ashley Adams,

Family Partners Program Director