What is Reunification
Reunification is the term used to describe a child returning to their birth family, this may be parents or another family member and according to the Department of Education reunification with family is the most common outcome for looked after children in England (Department of Education, 2014).
When considering a return to home it is the role of social services to consider many factors as part of the assessment process and prepare carers for this as a possible outcome even when a child appears settled and part of the family. According to research evidence, the timing of reunification can determine the likelihood of returning home which reduces sharply after around six months in care (Biehal, 2006).
Additional research evidence shows that children who returned home gradually over a longer period of time are more likely to still be living at home six months after a phased return (Wade et al., 2010), which supports the outcome that reunification can be effective.
However, it is also recognised that older children could face difficulties straddling the two worlds of home and care during a phased return, and might “vote with their feet” rather than experience the upset of leaving their placement by simply not returning to it and remaining with their birth parents.
Children often need an opportunity to experience the reality versus what their expectations are and a phased return home is a way of keeping this under review.
For carers the idea that a child they have cared for and who has become part of the family will return to their birth family can be a conflict of emotions. On the one hand, carers may feel happy that the child’s family have made significant progress to be considered “good enough” to parent the child alongside the mixed emotions of loss and sadness that the child will no longer be part of the family home.
There may be concerns about how this will impact the child but as carers, we also need to acknowledge that this affects everyone from our birth children, extended family, neighbours, school and clubs which a child may need to leave or the parent may decide not to continue with.
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