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Journal Issue: Children, Families, and Foster Care Volume 14 Number 1 Winter 2004

Family Reunification
Fred Wulczyn

Summary

Reunifying children placed in foster care with their birth parents is a primary goal of the child welfare system. Yet, relatively little is known about the reunification process. This article analyzes new data on trends in family reunification and discovers:

  • Although most children still exit foster care through family reunification, exit patterns have changed over the last 8 years. Currently, reunification takes longer to happen, whereas adoptions happen earlier.
  • A child's age and race are associated with the likelihood that he or she will be reunified. Infants and adolescents are less likely to be reunified than children in other age groups, and African-American children are less likely to be reunified than children of other racial/ethnic backgrounds.
  • Although many children who are reunified exit the system within a relatively short period of time, reunifications often do not succeed. Nearly 30% of children who were reunified in 1990 reentered foster care within 10 years.

The principle of family reunification is deeply rooted in American law and tradition, and reunification is likely to continue as the most common way children exit foster care. Thus, greater efforts should be made to ensure that reunifications are safe and lasting. The article closes with a discussion of changes in policy and practice that hold promise for improving the safety and stability of reunified families, such as instituting better measures of state performance, and continuing to provide monitoring and supports for families after a child is returned home.