Skip over navigation

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

Family Reunification
Fred Wulczyn

Introduction

For children in foster care, reunification with birth parents is often the primary permanency goal and the most likely reason a child will leave placement. About one-half of children placed in foster care will go back home to their parent( s) following what is often a relatively brief period in foster care. Within the larger context of child welfare policy and practice, the fact that most children go back to their birth parents after placement reflects the central importance of reunification as an outcome of foster care placement. This article discusses family reunification policy and practice. It begins with a discussion of the legal framework shaping family reunification policy and practice. It then assesses what is known about the factors that can affect the likelihood of children successfully reunifying with their birth parents. Next the article examines reunification within the broader context of child welfare outcomes and the problem of unsuccessful reunification—when children are reunified with birth parents only to later reenter the foster care system. Finally, the article concludes with a discussion of implications for policy and practice, with a focus on the key issues to be addressed if we are to improve the likelihood of children successfully reunifying with their birth parents.