Understanding Reunification

Children and young people, at times, are unable to live with their birth families for a variety of reasons including for their protection from harm. The first goal is to achieve reunification as quickly and safely as possible. Child welfare agencies commonly implement multifaceted strategies that build on strengths and address concerns. Returning children home often requires intensive, family-centred services to support a safe and stable family.

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 that the child left. Reunification requires a range of appropriate services and supports from the point that a child first enters care and beyond the return home, to meet the child and family’s needs. Strong engagement and collaboration with the family and amongst the child and family services system are also necessary to address the protective concerns to make the process of reunification possible. Family reunification involves a process of assessment, planning and action. Reunification exists within the continuum from family preservation aiming at preventing placement, through to long term out of home care. All the intervention and planning options have a place for each child and their family depending on their specific qualities, needs and circumstances, and intend to achieve stability for children.

For most children in out of home care, the benefits of pursuing reunification are irrefutable. The guidance on promoting children’s stability argues that the child’s best interests and assessment of the child’s developmental needs, present and future risk of harm and parental capability, should be at the core of all decision making for family preservation, reunification, or long term out of home care.

Our mission about reunification will be reunify the young person with the birth family and/or extended family or a foster family.

Clinical Model of Intervention

The clinical model adopted within Resicare Alliance Limited will be that depicted below pertaining to the Trauma Recovery Model of intervention considering the layers of intervention that are required to bring about effective change in the young person that will work towards a reunification plan with the young person.

All young people coming through the reunification service will experience an initial assessment process in order to complete a therapeutic assessment of reunification of the young person’s needs. This will identify what the plan will look like for each individual child/young person entering the service, whether they have entered one of our solo placements or group home environments.

The aim of the service is to provide therapeutic support and input for each young person that will utilise a multisystemic approach using an eclectic range of psychosocial therapeutic modalities. (See attached Cycle of Change highlighting the range of modalities that could be used). The cornerstone of the approach that underpins the working model will comprise of PACE and Dyadic Developmental interventions from staff supporting each young person. Each placement within the service will be up to 18 to 24 months in duration to assist young people to move on either back to a familial environment or foster care placement.

Following the  initial assessment process a therapeutic plan will be implemented that will consist of a psychosocial model of intervention that will utilise a range of approaches that will create a bespoke package around each child/young person in placement.

The interventions used will predominantly consist of motivational interviewing, solution focused practice, cognitive behavioural interventions, and dialectical behavioural interventions. The initial work will consist of some life story work to ascertain what the young person understands about their own history and what they want going forward.

With regard to the plan for each child once it is decided what the plan of reunification will look like then work will also commence with the reunifying family whether this be family members or foster carers once they have been identified. This work within the plan if family are identified will commence within 6 months of the young person coming into placement. This will be at around month 10 if foster carers are identified.

Throughout the process of reunification contact will always be planned and encouraged and assessed as part of the reunification plan for the young person.


The flow diagram below highlights the relevant timescales of the plan:

Day One – Admission to service

Six weeks into placement

Therapeutic Assessment Report Completed – establishes plan going forward – therapeutic plan commences.

Three Months from admission

Review of current plan

Six Months from admission

Reunification plan agreed with LA and young person/family – work to commence with family if reunification back to familial home is identified.

Nine Months

Review of plan – Protection plan established – Capacity to Protect of reunification family environment (Implementation of CASP-R Assessment with those proposed for reunification – this will inform work required with family members/foster carers identified)

15 Months

Transition discussions commence

18 Months

Transitions process reviewed

Within 24 Months


Transition completed and reunification in place – decisions made with LA about maintenance support given to family to support plan – maximum input of 3 months.


To support this process all staff working within the service are trained in therapeutic support delivery in a number of core areas namely: PACE, DDP, Psychosocial Interventions, Attachment & Trauma, Mental Health/Illness and Reunification Planning. Further training will be provided to the staff depending on the needs of each child.

Following each assessment, a clinical team will be placed around each child led by the clinical lead to implement the overarching clinical therapeutic plan going forward.

All clinical plans will be led by the clinical lead of the service (Lead Psychologist) who has over 25 years of experience in working with children and families and is an accredited national expert in the field of child and family work. Our clinical lead is an accredited court appointed expert and will take the lead in all clinical plans relating to all children in our placements.

Family Liaison

In order to support the plan of reunification Resicare Alliance Limited will undertake a Family Liaison role that will encompass the young person in placement, family members and/or foster carers and the Local Authority social worker. This role will be crucial to make sure that the plan is adhered to and appropriate supports are put in place to make sure timescales are met within the reunification plan for each child/young person in placement.

The Family Liaison service will undertake transition planning between the home and the Local Authority within the identified plan for reunification. Once family members are identified then appropriate assessments will be undertaken, such as CASP-R assessments (Capacity and Ability to Supervise and Protect Risk Assessment) in order to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place for the young person. This will be undertaken in consultation with the Local Authority in order to obtain best outcomes for the young person in placement within Resicare Alliance Limited

The following principles, incorporated with family liaison, are the threads of good practice that run through all the work carried out with children, young people and parents in relation to reunification:

  • Child at the centre – the child’s best interests must be at the centre of decision making. The situation must be viewed from the child’s perspective by listening to them, observing them and interpreting their behaviour;
  • Child centred timescales – Having child centred timescales means balancing the time needed for robust assessments and gradual return home with children’s timeframes and their need for stability and permanence. This also includes working around important events in their lives such as starting school terms or sitting exams. Thinking about return home needs to begin from the start of the child’s entry to care;
  • Respectful engagement with families – Parents should be given reasonable opportunity and support to make the changes they need to make, whilst ensuring the child’s best interest are kept central to decision making. Workers should work collaboratively with parents, help them to understand the changes needed, build on their strengths, show sensitivity, offer practice support, explain the consequences of breaching agreements and break ‘bad news where necessary (Farmer et al 2011 and Child Welfare Information Gateway 2012);
  • Understanding diversity – Engaging, assessing and supporting families should be sensitive to culture, religion, disability, sexuality and gender. Workers should be aware of disproportionality and any potential bias in making decisions and delivering support to families with particular characteristics. Collaborative working, critical reflection, use of research evidence and case supervision should be used to mitigate such biases;
  • The importance of support for parents and children before and after return home – Workers must be aware of the importance of relationship based social support, combined with specialist services and support from family, friends and the community. This could involve the use of Family Group Conferences;
  • Structured professional judgement and best practice– the reunification work is based on core skills, structured professional judgement (workers and managers) within a structured and evidence based framework;
  • Collaborative working and avoiding bias – Evidence from serious case reviews and research points to the need for objectivity in assessments and ways to mitigate a range of common biases including optimism and confirmation bias (Munro 1999, Turney et al 2011, and Farmer & Lutman 2012). For this reason, the framework promotes co-working where one worker who does not meet the family develops an in-depth analytical chronology, whilst the (usually) case holding worker carries out the assessment of the parents and child/ren when we get to that point within the plan. Decisions about whether or not the child should return home are made collaboratively at a minimum between these two workers, managers and other relevant practitioners. This will include the Local Authority perspective throughout.
  • The crucial role of the family liaison manager in case supervision – the role of the manager is crucial in ensuring that children and families are receiving evidence informed practice that places the child at the centre and in ensuring that workers are able to give children and families the time needed to undertake the reunification work. The family liaison manager must familiarise themselves with the reunification framework to support staff to work within it.

Advantages of Reunification Plans

  • Cost effectiveness for the Local Authority. For example, a 10-year child coming into care cost the Local Authority £254,540.00 per year. The initial plan was that the child would be in placement until aged 16, costing the authority £1,527,240.00. After 14 months of intervention the 10-year-old child was successfully reunified back home to parents’ care. The cost saving to the Local Authority was £1,230,277.00.
  • The aim and focus is to return children/young people back to the family environment which is what children constantly want to return too once they are displaced.
  • Keeping children with families together and not having to pay out of borough expenses.
  • Acknowledgment that families are not always lost causes and can provide good enough support to children and young people.
  • Robust intervention can aid in changing the direction of outcomes for children and young people.
  • Although the initial outlay can be expensive for Local Authorities, the outcome long term is cost saving significantly.

Case Study One

Family of three siblings, aged 9, 13 and 15 years respectively dispersed into the care system due to the oldest child sexually abusing the youngest child for approximately a 2-year period.

The parents were informed by the youngest child of the abuse which was ignored and not listened to by their parents. Middle child then discovered what was happening and also disclosed to parents; again parental response was inadequate and not protective.

Youngest child disclosed to schoolteacher. The Local Authority and Police became involved. Following ongoing investigations, the youngest child was placed within a specialist residential setting for children who had been subject to sexual abuse. (Placement costs were £5950.00 per week). The eldest child resulted being subject to a four-year custodial sentence. Parents were charged with neglect. Middle child remained with parents subject to a child protection plan.

Following 15 months of intervention with youngest child and family (parents and middle sibling) they were reunited and became a cohesive family unit. Parents, young child and middle sibling were worked with intensely to promote a reunification plan – transition commenced at month 10 of intervention whereby youngest sibling was moved from residential placement into foster placement then the eventual return home was accomplished.

Case Study Two

Family of two siblings, aged 10 and 13 respectively removed from parents care due to issues pertaining to neglect, capacity to protect issues and domestic abuse within the relationship.

The 10-year-old was placed in a foster care placement and the 13-year-old within a residential setting due to the extremity of his behaviours.

Reunification work was achieved with the parents and 10-year-old child within 12 months. Reunification work commenced with 13-year-old child but due to complexity of issues it was identified that a long-term foster care placement would meet the needs of the child more appropriately. 13-year-old child moved from residential placement following intensive intervention at month 14 and successfully transitioned into foster care placement.