Foster Care: Stop Premature Reunification!

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While the goal of foster care is to reunify children with their birth families, premature reunification often leads to a child's re-entry into the foster care system or even death.  Leading Foster Care Expert and founder and director of The Foster Care Institute, Dr. John DeGarmo, and Celebrity Actress and Foster Mom Jen Lilley want to ensure a child's safety and mental health before reuniting the child with the birth family. To be certain, Dr. DeGarmo and Lilley are in full support of family reunification, however, when families are not prepared or equipped with support for their children to return home safely, it can lead to generational foster care, ongoing forms of abuse, and even human trafficking.  

During a discussion with Dr. DeGarmo, Jen was shocked to learn that while California has a wonderful protocol for reunification, this is not uniform across the United States.  In fact, a child can be taken out of a safe, stable, and loving pre-adoptive home without notice and placed into a relative's home without the relative providing proof of basic needs like running water, a bed, clothing, or food. Furthermore, current law allows uprooting and placing the child with an unemployed relative who has ongoing domestic violence, anger issues, and a substance abuse addiction simply because they're blood relatives, even if the child has never met that relative.  It's no wonder children in foster children are almost twice as likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as U.S. war veterans, according to a study released Wednesday by the Harvard Medical School (HMS), the University of Michigan and Casey Family Programs.  Premature reunification happens because no basic reunification protocol or through line exists in all 50 states.  We want to change that, and we need your help!

We are petitioning the Federal Department of Health and Human Services to implement a basic reunification protocol so ensure a child's safety and successful reunification.  We do not need to recreate the wheel, we simply suggest that other states adapt a reunification model similar to that of California.

In California, there is a very thorough reunification process to ensure a child's safety and well-being, as well as a healthier environment for both children and parents.  There, a child placed into foster care will have court ordered visits with their birth parents to maintain and rebuild a healthy relationship.  At intake, these visits are monitored or supervised by a third party to ensure the child's safety and well being.  After successfully demonstrating basic parenting skills, the case will then move to unmonitored visits, where a parent is allowed to visit with their child without supervision.  Once these visits are going well, the next step is giving the parents and children a "home pass" which means the child will spend the night or weekend with their parent or relative caretaker and all of the people the child will live with.

In her paper "Frequency of Visits: Are one hour weekly visits enough to achieve reasonable effort to reunify children and parents?" Rose Marie Wentz, BSW, MPA writes, "Prior to a child being returned home, it is prudent to have had multiple and successful overnight visits, in the parent’s home, unsupervised, with all of the people the child will live with and during times and circumstances that mimic when the substantiated maltreatment occurred. Visit plans that do not progress to this level place the child in danger after reunification as it cannot be known how the parent and child will interact during daily stresses and whether the safety plan will be adequate to protect the child from repeat maltreatment. One hour per week during a year represents only 52 hours of contact. It is not realistic to think that this level of contact is sufficient to meet both purposes of visits. The Progressive Visit method is to make slow and safe steps in the Connection Plan from the initial visit to the overnight visits. Connection planning is a complex decision process based on the following factors: 1. The developmental age of the child, how to meet the child’s attachment needs and what the child desires; 2. The type of maltreatment that the child experienced; 3. The length of time in care the child has been in care and the focus of the agency’s work with the family (stages of care: initial placement and assessment, reasonable efforts work, making final permanency decision and post permanency decision, and the rest of the child’s life); 4. Family culture; and 5. Special needs of parent or child: addiction, mental illness, domestic violence, educational or developmental delays, behavioral problems, medical conditions, etc."

On July 28th and 29th, Dr. John DeGarmo and Jen Lilley are going to Washington DC to meet with state representatives from various states and the Department of Health and Human Services to voice their concerns about premature reunification and suggest other states implement a stronger and safer reunification process like that in California to ensure a child's safety, support birth families in their recovery, and prevent a child's re-entry into the foster care system or death.  Please sign this petition to prevent premature reunification and help break the cycle of abuse and death in the child welfare system.