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June 2020Vol. 21, No. 5Agencies Should Prioritize Family Supports During Reunification to Prevent Reentry

The article "The Road to Reunification: Family- and State System-Factors Associated With Successful Reunification for Children Ages Zero-to-Five" explores predictors of successful family reunifications and suggests agencies and practitioners should prioritize family-focused measures to support families during the reunification process and prevent children from reentering care. Drawing on 2012 data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, the study tracked children ages 0 to 5 for 3 years postreunification to compare family and state child welfare system factors affecting successful and unsuccessful reunifications. Reunification was considered successful if children who were reunified in fiscal year (FY) 2012 did not reenter care by the end of FY 2015.

Family-level variables analyzed in the study include race/ethnicity, children's ages, parental substance use, parental criminal background, family stress levels, and the continued presence of parental risk levels at reunification. State system-level variables included the type of child welfare administration (i.e., state centralized, county-level, or hybrid), the scale of privatization, statewide crime and poverty rates, the proportion of a state's child welfare budget allocated to reunification services, the proportion of drug overdose deaths, and the average time to reunify.

The following are some of the findings from the study:

  • More than four-fifths (83 percent) of the families experienced successful reunifications.
  • Family-level factors, such as parental drug use and prior child welfare experience, were stronger predictors of reunification outcomes than state-level factors.
  • The study also found that the odds of achieving successful reunification for Black and Latino families differed significantly across state systems.

The authors conclude that agencies and practitioners should prioritize family-centered interventions and suggest future research could focus on which state systems have improved outcomes for families of color and for families with histories of substance use.