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June 2023Vol. 24, No. 5Spotlight on Reunification

This issue of CBX highlights reunification and the importance of supporting families as they work toward their reunification goals. Read a message from Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg celebrating the joy and worth of each successful family reunification story. This issue also includes valuable resources for professionals and the families they serve.

Issue Spotlight

  • Reunification is Worthy of Immeasurable Time, A Message From Aysha E. Schomburg

    Reunification is Worthy of Immeasurable Time, A Message From Aysha E. Schomburg

    Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

    In a perfect world every family would have what it needs, whether that is concrete supports such as housing and cash, or even access to culturally appropriate mental health services. In that same perfect world, all families would stay together safely and be supported by their extended families and communities. That is a world in which foster care is obsolete. We don’t live in a perfect world, though, and while the first goal is always to keep families together, we don’t always reach that goal. The circumstances of family separation can be very unique, and they can also be eerily similar. In some of the eerily similar situations, too often we observe different outcomes for a family based on their demographic. 

    A couple of months ago, there was a story in the news about a 4-year-old boy who wandered off into the woods with the family dog. It was unclear how far the child had gone but according to the news, he had been missing for an hour sometime after 7pm. They showed the state police body cameras at the moment they heard the dog barking, and the state police found the crying boy unharmed. They scooped him up and delivered him to his mother’s arms. I don’t know if the family is known to the child welfare system, but I didn’t get that impression. The story was not about any suspected neglectfulness on the part of his parents—it was about the rescue, the dog, and the reunification. Repeatedly that week, the news covered this story and showed the video of the young boy being reunited with his mother.

    It's not lost on me why they covered it repeatedly—it’s a feel-good story of reunification. Everyone can participate in the happiness of seeing this unharmed child safely reunited with his parents after an uncertain journey into the woods that could have ended much differently. Children being reunited with their parents safely, after being separated for any period of time, is indeed worthy of immeasurable time on the airwaves.

    Whenever children are reunited with their families—their parents, siblings, tribes, communities—something in our world shifts and becomes a little less imperfect. We get it right, when we are zealous in our pursuit to reunite unharmed children with their parents, after what is undoubtedly, their own uncertain journey into the woods. We can scoop them up and deliver them to their parent’s arms, and we do. Although we may not always get the same news coverage, each and every successful family reunification story is worthy of immeasurable time on the airwaves. Let’s celebrate our progress and share stories of family triumph during this National Reunification Month. 

  • A New Training Focusing on Family-Centered Reunification

    A New Training Focusing on Family-Centered Reunification

    A new online training from the National Quality Improvement Center on Family-Centered Reunification, led by the Innovations Institute at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, focuses on family-centered approaches for working with families toward reunification. "Family-Centered Reunification Training" aims to help child welfare agencies infuse family-centered practices and strategies in their reunification work to achieve more timely reunifications that better address families’ needs and improve their capacity to safely care for their children.

    The principles of family-centered reunification, like those of family-centered practice, highlight the importance of engaging families and ensuring their active involvement throughout the process, encouraging their strengths, focusing on their mental health and well-being, and recognizing and honoring their cultures and backgrounds. Strategies can include connecting families to evidence-based community services, focusing first on placement with relatives to preserve cultural and family connections, offering parent education opportunities, and ensuring regular visits between family members and with agency workers.

    The training will help participants gain an understanding of the following:

    • Principles of family-centered reunification
    • Best practices for engaging with parents and families
    • Best practices for engaging fathers
    • Best practices for promoting family-centered reunification
    • How to engage holistically with families from various cultural backgrounds

    The Innovations Institute offers participants continuing education credits for the 60-minute "Family-Centered Reunification Training" through the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. Participants can also access the training without earning continuing education credits.

  • Family Is Best: Reflections on Kinship Care and Preserving Family Connections

    Family Is Best: Reflections on Kinship Care and Preserving Family Connections

    In her article “Kinship Matters: Reflections From the Bench on Preserving Children’s Right to Family” for the fall 2022 issue of Family Integrity & Justice Quarterly, Judge Edwina Richardson Mendelson reflects on the importance of kinship care and family connections for children’s well-being. She discusses how kinship care within the child welfare system has evolved over time and briefly reviews the past and present kinship care legal landscape in her jurisdiction of New York State and nationally.

    Judge Richardson Mendelson highlights recent efforts in New York to support kinship care as the first placement choice for children who have been removed from the care of their parent or other primary caregiver. These include an emphasis on extensive kin- and family-finding activities and an expansion of the state’s Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program, which aims to ensure timely permanency for children who do not have feasible adoption or reunification options. Both efforts were part of the state’s preparation for Family First Prevention Services Act implementation. She also shares resources that offer support and guidance for kin caregivers, such as the New York State Kinship Navigator Program and Grandfamilies.org.

    Judge Richardson Mendelson also considers what judges in every state can do to encourage the option of kinship care and support kin caregivers:

    • Lead from the top by making kinship care a priority topic in communications with child welfare agency leadership.
    • Lead from the bench by treating everyone with respect, engaging with families about their needs and concerns, asking questions, and ensuring agency accountability.
    • Advocate for resources, such as accessible legal representation for families and kin.
    • Lead with humility and humanity by setting a courtroom tone that is open minded and respectful.

    This issue of Family Integrity & Justice Quarterly focuses on the theme “Family Is Best Interest.” Throughout the issue, articles call the reader to consider what “best interests of the child” means in child welfare, how subjectivity around the understanding of “best interests” can lead to decisions tinged by implicit or explicit bias, that children tend to do better when their connections to family and kin are preserved, and how legal and child welfare systems can work to preserve family and kin connections for children’s well-being. Other featured articles include the following:

    Access the fall 2022 issue of Family Integrity & Justice Quarterly and learn more on the Family Integrity & Justice Works website.

     

    Recent Issues

  • March 2024

    Spotlight on Diversity and Racial Equity in Child Welfare

    Spotlight on Diversity and Racial Equity in Child Welfare

  • February 2024

    Spotlight on Child Welfare Data and Technology

    Spotlight on Child Welfare Data and Technology

News From the Children's Bureau

In this section, find the latest news, resources, and publications from the Administration for Children and Families, the Children's Bureau, and other offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as a listing of the latest additions to the Children's Bureau website.

Training & Technical Assistance Updates

This section features resources and updates from the Children's Bureau's technical assistance partners to support practices and systems that improve the lives of children and families.

Child Welfare Research

In this section, we highlight recent studies, literature reviews, and other research on child welfare topics.

  • A Review of 1 Year of Congregate Care Reform Under Family First

    A Review of 1 Year of Congregate Care Reform Under Family First

    The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 (Family First) contains several significant child welfare policy reforms, including efforts to reduce the number of children entering out-of-home care, promote family-based foster care placements when possible, and improve the standards for congregate care settings, such as group homes and residential facilities.

    As part of the congregate care facility reform, Family First created categories of allowable nonfamily placement settings, including Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTPs); settings specializing in prenatal, postpartum, or parenting supports; supervised independent living settings for those age 18 and older; and settings offering support to those who are, or are at risk of becoming, sex trafficking survivors. The QRTP models are designed to be appropriate, time-limited, and meet a child’s needs.

    In response to Family First, many states made reforms, including converting congregate care settings to QRTPs. The deadline for states to implement these reforms was October 2021. In March 2023, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Chapin Hall released a progress report detailing where states stand approximately 1 year after the implementation deadline. The report examines the early status, successes, and barriers that states have experienced as they implement congregate care reforms. It draws on research findings from a survey of child welfare agency leaders as well as focus groups with child welfare professionals, congregate care centers that have converted to QRTPs, and young people with lived experience.

    The following are key findings outlined in the report:

    • Ongoing congregate care reforms align with Family First.
    • States have reduced the use of congregate care and simultaneously increased the use of kinship foster care.
    • QRTPs are now a primary component of congregate care placement arrays in many states.
    • States undertake various strategies to establish and implement QRTPs to meet federal requirements.
    • Top implementation barriers concern resource needs in workforce and staff, therapeutic foster care models, funding, and foster families.
    • QRTP treatment, quality staff, and aftercare tailored to youth’s needs is lacking.
    • There is a perceived lack of change in QRTPs from preexisting congregate care culture and practice.
    • Child welfare systems need evidence that QRTPs are accountable for improving young people’s lives and outcomes.

    The report acknowledges that many state reforms are in the early stages and will require more research as time passes. For more information, including policy recommendations, read the report Family First Implementation: A One-Year Review of State Progress in Reforming Congregate Care.

  • NSCAW Adoption Study Examines Postadoption Instability

    NSCAW Adoption Study Examines Postadoption Instability

    Many children and youth who enter the child welfare system and cannot safely reunite with their families end up pursuing permanency through adoption. However, some experience postadoption instability and do not remain with those adoptive families, which can hinder a young person’s well-being.

    Much of the research available about postadoption instability is based on formal reports, such as reentry into foster care or termination of parental rights, but there are multiple types of informal instability as well, including running away, leaving home before age 18, or informally living with another adult. There is a need for more research on postadoption instability so that child welfare leaders, agencies, professionals, and policymakers can understand the types, rates, and causes of postadoption instability.

    In response to this need, the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) conducted an adoption follow-up study of 383 young people who exited foster care to adoption. Surveys were conducted from June 2021 to March 2022 with participants, all of whom also took part in prior NSCAW data collection studies.

    The study was built around research questions exploring the following topics:

    • The rate of formal and informal instability
    • Risk factors and protective factors for postadoption instability
    • The quality of adoptive parent-child relationships
    • The availability of and barriers to accessing support services

    Using online and phone surveys, researchers collected data about young people who experienced adoption and their adoptive families. The participants who experienced adoption ranged from 15 to 36 years old.

    The following are key findings from the study:

    • Almost 10 percent of participants experienced formal postadoption instability.
    • About 30 percent of participants experienced informal postadoption instability, with 18 percent running away, 17 percent leaving home prior to age 18, 9 percent living with a nonrelative adult, and 8 percent experiencing homelessness.
    • Less nurturing adoptive family relationships was a risk factor for both formal and informal instability.
    • Risk factors associated with informal instability include being older at the age of adoption, being assigned female at birth, and having less child-parent closeness.
    • Most participating adopted persons and adoptive parents described close relationships and sense of belonging, including many who experienced postadoption instability.
    • Participants more commonly reported services needed than services received.

    The study’s findings report also features several implications for the child welfare system, including opportunities for agencies and professionals to provide additional support. The study highlighted a need for improved knowledge of and access to postadoption services and supports, support for nurturing family relationships, and increased preadoption and postadoption support for families adopting older children.

    Read the full report, National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) Adoption Follow-Up Study: Findings Report, for more information.

Strategies and Tools for Practice

This section of CBX offers publications, articles, reports, toolkits, and other resources that provide evidence-based strategies or other concrete help to child welfare and related professionals.

  • Bright Spots Online Hub Provides Parent-Reviewed Child Welfare Practices

    Bright Spots Online Hub Provides Parent-Reviewed Child Welfare Practices

    Bright Spots, a new online resource library, features child welfare practices reviewed and recommended by parents who have experienced the child welfare system. The hub features a variety of resources, including practice tips, toolkits, and interviews on various topics.

    Bright Spots was developed by Alia, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to child welfare systems change. The organization partners with Rise magazine and Be Strong Families to develop its parent-recommended resource library.

    To become a “Bright Spot,” proposed practices must be submitted to or solicited by Alia. They are then reviewed by a panel of parents who have experienced the child welfare system. When reviewing, parents determine whether they would recommend a proposed practice and evaluate submissions based on the following criteria:

    • Potential for keeping families together
    • Potential for impact on the child welfare system
    • Potential negative consequences
    • Conditions to make the practice more equitable or effective

    Examples of resources in the Bright Spots library include All Children, All Families, a practice guide for implementing LGBTQ+ inclusive approaches; Blind Removals, a removal decision-making process designed to eliminate implicit bias; and the Peer and Community Care model, a family-strengthening model based on community connections.

    More practices are available on the Bright Spots website.

  • A New Publication Explores the Intersection of Poverty and Neglect in Child Welfare

    A New Publication Explores the Intersection of Poverty and Neglect in Child Welfare

    A new publication from Child Welfare Information Gateway, Separating Poverty From Neglect in Child Welfare, explores the intersection of poverty and neglect in families who become involved with the child welfare system. Families who are experiencing poverty are more likely to be reported to child protective services than those who are not. Therefore, it is crucial that child welfare systems account for the role of poverty in system involvement.

    Released in February 2023, the issue brief explores research on the overlap among families experiencing poverty and those reported to the child welfare system for neglect, the societal context within which both poverty and neglect exist, and strategies that have proven effective for preventing and addressing poverty and neglect.

    Confusing poverty with neglect has potential to lead to unnecessary family separation, so it is important that child welfare professionals are conscious of the increased likelihood of families who are poor to be reported to child protective services. It is also important to understand and address the racial element of the issue, since Black, Brown, and American Indian/Alaska Native families disproportionately experience both intergenerational poverty and child welfare system involvement.

    The publication includes an indepth review of proven strategies to address poverty and neglect in its “What Works” section. At the policy level, an important step is ensuring that states explicitly exclude poverty-related conditions from their definitions of child abuse and neglect so that children are not separated from their families solely because of poverty and poverty-related issues, such as inadequate housing. Other policy-level strategies include expanded Medicaid coverage, increased minimum wage, subsidized child care, and housing assistance.

    In addition to these preventative strategies, the publication includes sections with information about addressing neglect in the context of poverty and addressing poverty-related concerns experienced by families involved with child welfare. The latter section includes the following strategies:

    • Assess and address concrete needs first
    • Take a two-generation approach to working with families
    • Ensure compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act
    • Offer or refer to benefit navigator services
    • Identify and/or offer flexible funds for families
    • Codesign supports with people with lived experience
    • Engage community partners
    • Focus on strengths
    • Connect families with preventative legal advocacy

    For more information, read the publication Separating Poverty From Neglect in Child Welfare on the Information Gateway website.

Resources

This section of CBX presents interesting resources, such as websites, videos, journals, funding or scholarship opportunities, or other materials, that can be used in the field or with families.

  • Tip Sheet Emphasizes Importance of Self-Care for Grandfamilies

    Tip Sheet Emphasizes Importance of Self-Care for Grandfamilies

    A new tip sheet from Generations United highlights the importance of self-care, especially for grandparents and other relatives caring for children, both inside and outside the child welfare system. Often, when grandfamilies come together—whether on short, unexpected notice or with time and planning—the needs of the child become a priority, and caregivers give less attention to their own needs. The adverse mental and physical effects of neglecting self-care, which can present in a variety of health concerns, exhaustion, stress, and loneliness, also decrease a caregiver’s capacity to give care.

    The 4-page tip sheet defines self-care and provides a brief list of challenges common to grandfamilies. It also offers actionable self-care tips related to managing stress, working toward and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the need for rest and “me time,” and peer connection and support. Finally, the tip sheet includes examples of self-care and a selection of self-care and mental health resources.  

    Read Grandfamily Caregiver Tip Sheet: Self-Care on the Generations United website. A Spanish version is also available.

  • Supporting Reunification as a Foster Parent

    Supporting Reunification as a Foster Parent

    It is important that foster parents are supportive of reunification, especially since most children and youth who experience foster care eventually reunify with their families. A new AdoptUSKids blog post addresses this topic to help foster parents understand and support reunification efforts for the well-being of the children or youth in their care.

    Many of the strategies presented in the post involve partnering with the child’s birth family, which has multiple benefits, including increasing the likelihood of reunification, improving the child’s comfort with their foster family, and reducing trauma when the child returns home to their birth family.

    The post suggests that foster parents assess their ideas about birth families, which could contribute to implicit bias and serve as a roadblock to reunification. In addition to self-evaluating for preconceived notions, foster families should consciously make efforts to support visits with family. Court-ordered visits are important, and if a foster family does not treat the visits as such—or expresses a lack of support or hurtful sentiments toward the family—they could cause additional trauma for the child.

    Other supportive strategies that foster families can use may provide continuity and comfort for the children in their care. For example, involving birth parents in decision-making can help ensure that children are exposed to familiar experiences, clothing, foods, and so forth, which can make reunification less jarring. Another practice that can provide continuity is creating a “life book” where children can track positive memories throughout their life with both their birth family and foster family.

    More strategies and information are available in the blog post "How Foster Parents Can Support Reunification."

  • Guide Outlines Kin Caregiving Options

    Guide Outlines Kin Caregiving Options

    A recent tip sheet developed for kin caregivers by the Grandfamilies & Kinship Support Network provides a brief overview of the different caregiving options, the questions and concerns associated with each option, and where families can go for help. The needs and considerations present when a related or kin child is placed with family vary depending on whether the caregiving arrangement is formal (through the child welfare system or family court) or informal (without agency or court oversight), such as when a parent leaves a child with a grandparent or other relative.

    The 2-page guide discusses important legal aspects, including retaining legal representation, establishing power of attorney or similar decision-making authority, and collecting other needed documentation like birth certificates, health and school records, and more. The tip sheet also links to a variety of helpful resources, such as GrandFacts: State Fact Sheets for Grandfamilies, and offers a short section on technical assistance tips for professionals working with kin caregivers and grandfamilies.

    Legal Options for Grandfamily & Kin Caregivers is available on the Network’s website.

Training and Conferences

Find trainings, workshops, webinars, and other opportunities for professionals and families to learn about how to improve the lives of children and youth as well as a listing of upcoming events and conferences.