Effective Date: 5-1-19
Family reunification is generally the first choice and should occur as soon as the parents have been able to resolve or reduce the problem(s) which necessitated the child’s placement to a minimally acceptable safe level. Reunification maintains family roots, requires few legal procedures, and is usually the least traumatic choice. Reunification refers to a safety decision to change an out-of-home placement to an in-home placement based on an analysis that:
- Worries of danger to the child are no longer present
- Caregiver has developed a safety network
- Conditions for return have been met
The FST, when deciding whether family reunification is appropriate, should assess the child’s and family functioning and situation, especially in relation to:
- The parent’s ability to meet the physical, social, emotional, medical, educational and safety needs of the child
- The parent(s) has rectified the conditions that led to out-of-home care
- The impact on the child and family of experiences with past abuse and/or neglect
- The child’s current level of functioning and any special needs
- Level of parental functioning, family relationships, communication patterns, conflict resolution skills and children’s relationships
- The parent’s and child’s strengths, resources and potentials that can make reunification possible. Special appreciation should be given to the strengths and resources in families whose lifestyles, family styles and child rearing methods differ from that of the Children’s Service Worker or other members of the Family Support Team
- Support and/or services available to the family through the family’s safety network, CD and the community
- Family problems which may impede reunification, i.e., mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, etc.
- The family’s and child’s willingness and readiness to be reunited; and
- The relationships between the parent, placement provider, Children’s Service Worker, and child which promote or impede reunification
- If the child has been in foster care for 15 out of the most recent 22 months or one of the other factors exist which trigger the mandatory filing of a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights (TPR), then the worker and the Family Support Team must review the case to determine if there are compelling reasons why the filing of a TPR petition is not in the best interests of the child. The procedure for determining and documenting a compelling reason finding is included in chapter 6 of this section.
Note on Abuse between Minors
Restrictions on placement, custody, visitation or reunification for minors who were determined to be either a victim or a perpetrator in an incident of abuse between minors (Section 210.117 RSMo.; Section 210.710 RSMo.; Section 210.720 RSMo.; and Section 211.038 RSMo.) may present significant difficulties for workers who are working toward reunification; making placement decisions or enrolling children in Division custody in child care or in school.
The Children’s Service Worker and other Family Support Team members should carefully weigh the risk of reunification against the risk of continued placement in out-of-home care and its impacts on each member of the family.
Note on Parent Criminal History
Revised Missouri Statutes in Chapter 207, 210, 211, 219, 451, 452, 455, 475, 566 and Chapter 568 affect custody, placement and visitation of children under the jurisdiction of Juvenile Court. Some parent/caregiver’s felony convictions may not allow the court to reunify.
The Children’s Service worker is to determine if the parent has a known criminal history, involving any of the above stated felony convictions. If the parent’s criminal history is not known to the worker, the worker is to request that a local or state law enforcement agency or juvenile officer conduct a name-based criminal history record check to include full orders of protection and outstanding warrants of each parent by using the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System (MULES) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) to initially assess whether the parent holds a criminal history. Workers should document in FACES when local law enforcement does not make such information available.
The requirements of Section 210.117. RSMo do not apply to any reunification efforts made prior to August 28, 2004. However, a case in which a parent has criminal convictions/guilty pleas that were entered after August 28, 2004 shall adhere to Section 210.117 RSMo.
8.1.1 Process of Returning a Child Home
Development of Reunification Plan
The Children’s Service Worker and the FST shall develop a plan with the parent, child (if appropriate) and safety network which outlines the continued responsibilities of the Division, parent, child, and network in order to ensure successful reunification. The worker shall continue to provide any specialized treatment services needed to maintain family stability and prevent recurrence of the behaviors, which resulted in the original placement.
Preparing the Resource Provider
As a member of the FST, the resource provider participates in making significant decisions in the child’s life. The resource provider will also assume an active role as mentor and helper to the parent to facilitate a successful family reunion. The goal of reunification should not come as a surprise to the resource provider. However, the bonds that develop between some resource providers and children are so significant that both the child and the adult may grieve the loss. Therefore, it is important that the Children’s Service Worker recognizes the signs of grieving and assists the child and resource provider through this difficult transition.
The Children’s Service Worker and resource provider should discuss:
- Resource provider’s fears or anxieties regarding the child’s return to the parents
- Anticipated changes in the child’s behavior during the transition phase
- Resource provider’s role in helping/supporting the parent and child make the transition
- Updating the life book and other records maintained by the resource provider
- Continued contact, if any, with the child and parent
Preparing the Non-Custodial Parent
In preparing the non-custodial parent for reunification with the child, the Children’s Service Worker should consider the non-custodial parent’s awareness and involvement in the child’s placement, (i.e. communication and visitation and his/her previous role in the child’s life). In addition, the worker and non-custodial parent should discuss anticipated issues and methods for coping with those issues. If necessary, an aftercare plan may be developed with the non-custodial parent to ensure successful reunification.
If the family/juvenile court terminates jurisdiction, legal custody will revert to the prior legal custodian. The non-custodial parent must obtain legal custody through civil court.\
Reunification support services are critical to a successful family reunion. Reciprocal and open communication between the Children’s Service Worker, parents, child, resource provider, and external agencies providing services to the family or child is essential to identifying services needed for successful family reunification. Services should be consistent with the individual needs of family members. The following represents activities that the worker may complete with the family:
- Assure face-to-face contact with family and child in the home occurs once a week for the first month of reunification by the Children’s Service Worker
- Identify community supports and safety networks needed to aid family reintegration
- Continue any specialized treatment services needed to maintain the family stability and prevent reoccurrence of behaviors which resulted in the original placement
- Continue any needed referrals and assistance to the parent(s)
- Contact with the family, as needed
- Determine that the family demonstrates adequate care of children and termination of services can be considered
- Determine with the parents a projected date for case closing
- Conduct a closure visit
Issues that the Children’s Service Worker should discuss with the family and child during contacts should include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:
- The progressive periods of child’s adjustment (i.e., separation and grief, honeymoon, testing of limits, etc.);
- Parents’ uncertainty about their ability to adequately meet the child’s needs
- Increased responsibility for meeting child’s needs for safety and security
- How family relationships have been affected by the child’s return home and
- What services have been helpful and what additional services are needed.
Requesting Termination of Court Jurisdiction
The Children’s Service Worker shall request, in writing, termination of court jurisdiction according to the requirements of the presiding court. Staff should not close the Alternative Care Client Information screen in FACES until the court has terminated jurisdiction.