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Family reunification: What happens when a child returns to their family?

mother holding son laughing

What is family reunification?

Family reunification is the goal of safely returning a child or young person to the care of their parent or parents, or sometimes other family members. Foster carers look after children and young people on a temporary basis. The aim is to support parents to have their child or young person return to their care as soon as it is safely possible.

Reunification decisions are made by the Children’s Court of Victoria after the child’s safety, wellbeing and best interests are taken into consideration.

‘Reunifying a child with his or her birth parents is not a one-time event. Rather, it is a process involving the reintegration of the child into a family environment that may have changed significantly from the environment the child left’. (Wulczyn, 2004, p99)

Foster carers play a key role to support reunification, with most children and young people returning home to their parents in less than a year.

Why is reunification important?

The child’s best interests must always be the most important consideration when delivering child protection and foster care services. The child is placed at the centre of all decisions and actions.

At Berry Street we follow the Best interests principles as required by the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 and laid out in the Child Protection Manual.

The most important principles when it comes to reunification are:

  • The child comes first – their best interests are front of mind
  • The views and wishes of the child are considered as much as possible
  • Children are best raised with their own families where possible
  • A child’s attachments and need for relationships with their family should be recognised and considered
  • Most families are able to care for their children, particularly when given the right support and assistance to do so
  • When family members are genuinely unable to safely care for their children, a long-term and stable home should be found for them
  • All members of a child’s family, including parents, siblings, relatives and foster carers, should be involved in making decisions about reunification.

These principles highlight the importance of meaningfully involving children, parents, other relatives and carers, in the journey of reunifying families.

The reunification journey and your role as a foster carer

Foster carers play an important role in the reunification journey due to their close connection and knowledge of the child. Children build relationships with foster carers, therefore carers are well placed to hear the voice of that child.

There are a range of ways foster carers can be involved in helping children feel safe as they transition from a care arrangement to home with their family. Talk to your care team about what you can do to help in this process.

Self-care

Foster carers may find it difficult when a placement ends and a child returns to their family. It’s normal to struggle with saying goodbye and have feelings of sadness.

Although not always possible, you may be able to stay in touch with the child and their family after they are reunited. This would be up to the family to decide.

It’s important to focus on the achievements of the child while they were with you and the positives of the time you spent together. You gave them a home when they most needed it.

It’s ok to take a break between placements to recharge your batteries and reconnect with your family and friends. If you need more support, talk to your care team.

You can change the life of a child by becoming a foster carer and providing a safe home. Contact our team to find out more.