Importance of family
Being in a family positively impacts a child’s development. Children should be raised in a family and most families can care for their children, though some need some additional support. People are not isolated beings; they are part of familial and social networks.
When those networks and connections are disrupted – as when children are taken away from their families - the impact is negative and it is cumulative on the child, the family and the community.
Rates of reunification
Each year more than 287,000 children who were in foster care for some period of time leave care. Of these, more than half are reunified with their parents, after an average of six months in care.
However, reunification does not occur uniformly across the nation, with differences appearing from state to state, across races, and at different ages. For example:
- Reunification rates by state range from a high of 76% to a low of 30%;
- Children under the age of 1 are reunified with their parents only 35% of the time;
- Nationally, 68% percent of Asian children are reunified, as are 54% of whites, 58% of Hispanics, and 54% of American Indians; but for Black children the rate is only 48%. This statistic is amplified by the fact that African Americans and American Indians are twice as likely to be investigated and substantiated for child maltreatment, and their children are two to three times more likely to be placed in foster care than those in the general child population. Children of color enter foster care at a higher rate, stay in care longer and leave foster care at a slower rate than white children.
What happens without reunification?
What happens to those children for whom reunification is not achieved in those first six months of placement? The longer a child is in out-of-home care, the less likely reunification will be achieved.
Longer stays in foster care increase the chance of multiple placements, which are associated with problems of attachment, poor school performance and behavioral difficulties. Those who stay in care the longest are at risk of becoming one of more than 20,000 young people who leave the foster care system each year with no achieved permanency outcome, at risk of homelessness, unemployment, pregnancy, and poor educational achievement.
Ironically, many of these youth return to their families of origin on their own after they “age out” of the system.
Increasing safe reunification
In response to negative outcomes such as these, Casey Family Programs is sponsoring a Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Timely Permanency Through Reunification. Twenty teams of Public child welfare agencies/Tribal social service agencies along with a court or tribal court partner will be brought together to share knowledge, challenges and successes over the course of two years.