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June 2020Vol. 21, No. 5A Reunification Month Message From Jerry Milner

During this most unusual June, I urge all of us to reflect on just how unusual it is for a child to be separated from his or her parents and placed in the home of a well-intentioned stranger. There are times when this is a necessary event in the life of a child and his or her parents due to an articulated danger and no known relative or kinship caretaker is available. However, even under the best of circumstances, separation to foster care can be a scary and traumatic experience for a child and his or her parents alike. The fact is foster care is not a normal situation for children or parents. It is an emergency stopgap, intended in nearly all circumstances as a vehicle for reunification. It should not be long term and should not serve as a barrier between parents and children in the absence of documented safety concerns. As we outlined in our recent Information Memorandum (IM-20-06), foster care can and should be a support to families as opposed to a substitute for parents.

National Reunification Month signals an incredible opportunity for the child welfare system to commit to resource families and children's parents working together to provide children and youth with the critical love and support they need. It is an opportunity to use the compassion and skills of resource families across the country to encourage and promote safe reunification, where possible, and to remain engaged with children and parents postreunification as ongoing supports for reunified families.

We also honor fathers this month and know fathers continue to be an undervalued and sometimes unconsidered resource in the lives of children. Let us renew our commitment to seeing fathers as the source of strength and resilience they can be and the roles they and paternal family members can play in helping families stay together or get back together sooner. 

I have been in the field long enough and met with dedicated social workers, providers, and attorneys across the country several times over to know there is no shortage of passion and commitment to help. It is time to be resolute and united in our charge to strengthen families so that they may remain together safely. And yes, where separation has occurred, we should celebrate reunification. That celebrations of families are occurring across the country—from Unification Day in New Jersey to Reunification Day in a county court in Iowa—give me hope, and hope is a powerful thing.

We can and should be a system that proactively seeks to strengthen, support, and celebrate families at all times.