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June 2022Vol. 23, No. 5Spotlight on Reunification

This edition of CBX features resources on reunification and the importance of supporting families as they work toward their reunification goals. Read a message from Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg about how we should listen to the lived experiences of parents who have experienced separation from their children through out-of-home care and be transformational in the way we work to keep families together. This issue also includes valuable resources for professionals and the families they serve.

Issue Spotlight

  • Try Something Different

    Try Something Different

    Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

    Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Phoenix and spend a whole day in fellowship with members of the Black community there. My plane landed and I headed straight to the "Keeping Families Together" convening, which was coordinated by a local community-based organization called Our Brother Our Sister. The purpose of the event was not only to discuss the drastic disproportionality of Black children and youth in foster care in Arizona, but it was also a call to action to end family separation and do everything possible to safely reunite families that have been separated by the foster care system.

    The convening included several substantive presentations, but what stayed with me the most was the "lived experience panel." The panel included one father who recounted a devastating close call with the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS). His daughter was nearly taken into care as a result of, as I understand it, a misunderstanding about her medical follow up. He told his story through his tears. One young woman talked about her experience of being taken into foster care with her younger sister, with whom she was very close, and then being separated from her sister while in foster care. She wanted to protect her little sister, but she couldn't. She cried, too. Another woman spoke about reaching out to DCS for help with one of her children and receiving that much-needed help; however, some years later, she reached out to DCS again for help but instead her children were taken away. Her story of betrayal cuts deep. Finally, there was a mother who had been reunified with two of her children but is in the middle of a fight to have her other children returned. She asked, "How is it that I am able to parent two of my children but not all of my children?" Her struggle continues.

    I want to mention that I was sitting at a table right in front of the panel, so I had an unobstructed view of their pain—and sitting two seats to my right was the director of Arizona DCS. What was so heartening about this community-led conversation was that we were not operating in factions. We were all there—federal and state governments, external partners, and impacted community members—actively engaged in tough listening. Shortly after hearing from the panel, I was invited to join a conversation about how to move Arizona toward transformational change. I retreated to a conference room with community leadership, the director, and the executive director of an organization that has demonstrated success in keeping children out of foster care and bringing families together. This particular organization puts parents with lived experience at the center of the solution. Parents can help parents. We left the conference room with a plan in place to try something different.

    June is National Reunification Month. Make a commitment to try something different. Let's be transformational in the way that we work together to reunite families.

  • The Impact of COVID-19 on Reunification for Child Welfare-Involved Families

    The Impact of COVID-19 on Reunification for Child Welfare-Involved Families

    COVID-19 has been a source of disruption and stress for families and systems and has significantly changed the way child welfare operates in its day-to-day business. At the start of the pandemic, many courts and child welfare agencies suspended or reduced in-person family time, which is a critical part of the reunification process and has several benefits to attachment and well-being. Family time also provides an opportunity for child welfare workers to assess the progress of birth parents in meeting reunification goals. To help mitigate the challenges to in-person visits, many agencies implemented virtual family time to their clients' case plans. However, meeting virtually can have its own set of challenges since some families may not have easy access to technology and the internet or have children who are too young to engage online or have special needs. 

    The article "The Impact of COVID-19 on Child Welfare-Involved Families: Implications for Parent–Child Reunification and Child Welfare Professionals" in Developmental Child Welfare features a mixed-methods study that used survey data gleaned from 196 child welfare professionals from August to September 2020. The study looked at the impact COVID-19 has had on birth and foster parents, children, and child welfare professionals as well as its implications and associated challenges for parent-child contact and reunification though the perspectives of child welfare-involved professionals. 

    This study aimed to answer three questions:
    1. How has COVID-19 impacted the work lives and responsibilities of child welfare-involved professionals?
    2. How has COVID-19 impacted child welfare-involved families from the perspective of the professionals who work with them?
    3. How do the perceived impacts vary by professional role (i.e., child welfare worker, therapist, attorney)?
    The study found that most participants had increased anxiety about the safety of the families and children they serve (77 percent) and about their own protection and safety from the virus (55 percent). Almost a quarter (23 percent) experienced or feared job loss, and 15 percent reported an increase in their caseloads. The survey also explored the impact of COVID-19 on reunification speed and planning and other concerns participants had. Several themes about what participants believed were undermining reunification outcomes emerged from the responses:
    • Lack of in-person visits and subsequent weaker parent-child bonds 
    • Lack of access to services and supports 
    • Child welfare and legal system failures
    • Stress and functioning among foster parents and children in foster care
    • Suspected unreported abuse
    When reviewing the results of the survey, it is important to remember that most participants had a fairly homogenous racial, educational, and gender makeup, which may have impacted their reflections. Child welfare and related professionals, leaders, and administrators can use this survey to reflect on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected both their workforce and the families they serve, whether workers have the same concerns now, and where attention can be focused. 

    Related Articles

    Find information on what COVID-19 has revealed about racial differences in child welfare and child well-being in the following articles:

  • Moms Matter: Encouraging Moms to Reach Their Reunification Goals

    Moms Matter: Encouraging Moms to Reach Their Reunification Goals

    Moms Matter, a webpage produced by Fostering Great Ideas, provides resources and information for mothers working toward reunification with their children. The page presents a video from the perspective of a mother working to reunite with her children, access to a peer-led support groups and online communities, and referrals to local resources. Moms Matter uses a peer-to-peer approach, utilizing group discussions and certified peer-support specialists to help mothers progress through their treatment plans by breaking them into small, manageable tasks as well as working on skills development. 

    The webpage also includes information about a 13-week curriculum, Elevate U, to help mothers work on their parenting and life skills and recovery from any addiction issues and trauma. According to the Moms Matter page, 90 percent of children with mothers in the program reunify each year compared with 49 percent in the general population. 

    Explore the Moms Matter webpage for more information.

    Related Items

    For information on fatherhood initiatives, reunification, and programs aimed at supporting fathers involved with child welfare, visit the following:
  • The On the Way Home Reunification Program

    The On the Way Home Reunification Program

    On the Way Home (OTWH) is a 12- to 14-month reunification program aimed at addressing the transition needs of middle and high school youth who have—or who are at risk of having—emotional and behavioral disorders after staying in residential care, as well as their caregivers. Because this population of youth has unique educational and family-based transition challenges, the OTWH program provides 12 months of reunification support after youth are discharged from a residential care home. The program modifies and integrates three interventions: Check & Connect, Common Sense Parenting, and homework support. Services are provided by a trained OTWH consultant in the family's home as well as in the school and community.

    The program has three main goals to help promote youth home stability and prevent school dropout:

    • Increase family empowerment and self-efficacy through teaching prosocial and parenting skills
    • Engage youth in school and assist in academic success with a goal of graduation
    • Improve child-caregiver relationships to create placement stability
    Youth and families work with trained consultants for an average of 2 hours per week. 

    For more information on the program, including training and implementation information, visit the OTWH page on the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare website.

    Recent Issues

  • April 2024

    Spotlight on National Child Abuse Prevention Month

    Spotlight on National Child Abuse Prevention Month

  • March 2024

    Spotlight on Diversity and Racial Equity in Child Welfare

    Spotlight on Diversity and Racial Equity in Child Welfare

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 and 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.

  • Framework for Systems Reform Addresses Racial Disproportionality

    Framework for Systems Reform Addresses Racial Disproportionality

    A recent article in the International Journal on Child Maltreatment: Research, Policy, and Practice proposes a framework to guide systems change in child welfare, with a goal of improving outcomes for children and families of color. The article, "A Connectedness Framework: Breaking the Cycle of Child Removal for Black and Indigenous Children," begins with an overview of the history of child removal, with a specific focus on Alaska Native, American Indian, and African-American children. These populations share a history of forced child removal through residential boarding schools and slavery, and they continue to be disproportionately overrepresented in the child welfare system.

    The authors recommend transforming the child welfare system to one that is based on community-driven efforts and relationality, rather than child removal, using a framework inspired by the Indigenous Connectedness Framework. The Indigenous Connectedness Framework highlights mechanisms for building and maintaining healthy relationships to family, community, environment, ancestors/future generations, culture/spirit, and self. The article's proposed Connectedness Framework for Systems Change features similar concepts to apply to child welfare systems.   

    The article concludes with the following recommendations for a different approach to child welfare: 
    • Oppressed populations should have a prominent role in designing culturally appropriate systems of care for the safety of their children.
    • Federally recognized tribes should be able to design and implement their own child protection systems. 
    • Tribal courts should have jurisdictions over child protection.
    • Neighborhoods need to be revitalized.
    • Families should not live in fear of having their children removed.
    • Funding should be allocated to effective community-led and community-strengthening programs.
    • The child welfare system should be built upon a relational framework that focuses on community-driven efforts, lived experience, and ending disproportionality. 
  • Brief Details Findings About Coordinated Services Approaches in Child Welfare

    Brief Details Findings About Coordinated Services Approaches in Child Welfare

    recent brief from the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services details findings from the Assessing Models of Coordinated Services (AMCS) study. The brief describes lessons learned and examples gathered during interviews with leaders from 18 coordinated services approaches.

    A coordinated services approach is an effort by a program, agency, or organization that involves coordinating services for children and families through partnerships. These approaches can occur at both the state and local levels. 

    During the interviews, the AMCS research team identified key themes about coordination and partnerships. The following are some of the key takeaways from the interviews: 

    • Collaborating with partners and aligning goals can help partners meet families' needs. 
    • Coordinated services approaches can improve access to, enrollment in, and the quality of certain health and human services, including early care and education. 
    • Successful partnerships often involve information sharing. 
    • State and local coordinated services approaches often reciprocally share information. 
    • Coordinated services approaches often combine funding to meet multiple family needs. 
    • Collecting data from coordinated services approaches can inform partners' understanding of their service areas and help them provide customized services.
    Read more about these takeaways, as well as specific examples of state and local coordinated services approaches in the brief, "Supporting Families Through Coordinated Services Partnerships."

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.

  • Relationships as a Support for Reunification

    Relationships as a Support for Reunification

    Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

    When the difficult decision is made that removal is necessary to ensure a child's safety, reunification—as quickly and safely as possible—is the primary goal. Family reunification is more likely and more successful when child welfare supports are rooted in authentic relationships and focused on building family strengths. As agencies continue striving to improve their services, it is necessary to keep this question in mind: How can agencies better support families during reunification? 

    The relationship between a family and a caseworker, as well as the relationship between child welfare and other social service providers, are key components in successful reunification. Investing in these relationships can build a strong and resourced team dedicated to a family's success. The team's ability to build strong relationships based on mutual trust depends on support from agency leaders. Child welfare professionals who are trained to first focus on a family's strengths can better serve and more authentically engage families when they are rooted in a belief that, with the right support, families can grow stronger together and have better reunification outcomes. 

    How Can Agencies Better Support Caseworkers and Families During Reunification?

    Child welfare leaders and agencies share responsibility with the caseworker for improving a family's reunification experience. Strong relationships and mutual trust are the main pillars of successful reunification. Something as simple as returning a phone call can be the first step in a relationship based on mutual respect. Consider the following actions to help better support both caseworkers and the families they serve:

    Prioritize Families and Relationship Building   

    Authentic relationships between caseworkers and families take time and trust. Building rapport and leveraging family expertise require agency leadership that prioritizes families and makes it possible for caseworkers to partner with families. Consider the following questions as you work to create space for trusting relationships:
    • How would caseworkers and families describe the agency's priorities? What would need to happen for them to describe the agency culture as family focused?
    • Do caseworkers spend more time with families or on paperwork? Are there opportunities to eliminate duplication or streamline the administrative burden on caseworkers?
    • How could data sharing with other organizations ease administrative loads and help create a continuum of care for families? 
    For more information about data sharing between systems to improve outcomes, refer to Facilitating Cross-System Collaboration: A Primer on Child Welfare, Alcohol and Other Drug Services, and Courts.

    Dedicate Resources for Strength-Based Training and Supervision

    There is an inherently uneven power dynamic between child welfare professionals and parents. Striving to mitigate that power dynamic and work in partnership can support reunification efforts. Consider the following questions as you work to bolster strength-based practice:
    • Are the majority of in-service trainings focused on information sharing or skill building? Where are opportunities to build caseworker competencies in family engagement, strength-based practice, and cultural humility? How are skills reinforced to sustain practice?
    • What skills and competencies do families identify as most needed? How are training, coaching, and supervision nurturing those skills?
    • How does the agency model strength-based practice? How are lived experts engaged as partners and decision-makers at the agency and system levels?
    Agencies and Courts: Putting Families Front and Center Activity and Discussion Guide includes strategies to incorporate a family-focused, strengths-based approach to reunification training and practice. 

    Maximize Community Connections

    Leveraging community resources and forming partnerships with community-based organizations can ease budgetary constraints to provide extra concrete supports while providing families with more holistic support for faster and more successful reunification. Consider the following questions as you work to build out a continuum of care with community partners:
    • How are caseworkers able to connect families to the services they have identified they need? How are barriers to reunification explored with families and addressed?
    • How are children and youth connected to trauma-informed therapists, counselors, or afterschool programs?
    • What kinds of supports are in place after reunification? How can community-based organizations help ensure families thrive after child welfare intervention has ended?
    Watch "National Foster Care Month: Post-Reunification Supports and Prevention of Reentry Into Out-of-Home Care" for strategies, examples, and lessons learned to promote reunification and prevent reentry. 
  • The Implications of Family-Based Versus Institutional Care for Foster Children

    The Implications of Family-Based Versus Institutional Care for Foster Children

    recent brief explores the role of institutional care for children in foster care, outlining reforms made under the Family First Prevention Services Act that limit the financing of these residential facilities. In the brief, the authors argue that children fare better in family settings than in institutional care. The brief links to several reports and studies that document the overuse and harm of institutional care for children in foster care. It also points to evidence that family-based care contributes to improved well-being. Since children sometimes have behavioral needs that cannot be provided for in a family setting, the writers argue that there are appropriate circumstances for children to receive residential treatment.

    The brief outlines two recommendations associated with these findings:

    • Qualified residential treatment programs should remain small, with fewer than 17 beds, to protect children from the harms of institutional care and to allow states to leverage federal Medicaid funding. 
    • Family-based foster care and community-based services are necessary to fulfill the vision of the Family First Act. 
    The brief was developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children's Defense Fund, FosterClub, Think of Us, and the Youth Law Center.

    Read the brief, "The Path to Well-Being for Children and Youth in Foster Care Relies on Quality Family-Based Care," for more information, including links to relevant studies and reports.  


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.

  • Guide Offers Support for Caregiver Well-Being

    Guide Offers Support for Caregiver Well-Being

    Whether a caregiver is a birth, foster, adoptive, or grandparent, the role can be as challenging as it is rewarding. The stress associated with caregiving can lead to burnout, which can adversely affect relationships and one's capacity to provide care. 

    Alia released Caregivers Guide to Wellbeing to highlight the importance of self-care and support and inspire caregivers—including those caring for children or adults—by providing them with the knowledge, encouragement, and manageable techniques needed to increase their well-being and joy.

    Following a brief introduction and overview, the guide is divided into five parts that reflect the key principles of a well-being-focused lifestyle and culture:
    • Balance
    • Connection
    • Loss
    • Change
    • Antiracism/cultural well-being
    Each colorful and easy-to-follow section provides key questions, considerations, and an opportunity for guided reflection and simple activities. 

    Caregivers Guide to Wellbeing was developed by Alia with funding from the Carlson Family Foundation. 
  • New Resource Helps Adults Talk With Youth About Mental Health

    New Resource Helps Adults Talk With Youth About Mental Health

    The Child Mind Institute, a national nonprofit focused on children's mental health, recently launched the California Healthy Minds, Thriving Kids project to provide free, evidence-based resources that families and educators can use to teach children and youth about mental health and wellness, how to manage emotions and use healthy coping skills, and the importance of self-care. Many children involved with child welfare experience mental health issues. This project can help families involved with child welfare that have children with mental health issues.

    The project presents a series of videos and supplemental study guides that are organized by audience (parent, educator, and student) and further tailored by age group (elementary, middle, and high school). The videos focus on the following foundational mental health skills:

    • Recognizing and understanding feelings
    • Relaxation skills
    • The connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
    • Managing intense emotions
    • Mindfulness
    Each 5- to 7-minute video captures the authentic, lived experiences of a diverse cast of individuals in an age-appropriate question-and-answer format. The videos and supplemental print materials are also available in Spanish.

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.