Reunification is the GOAL

Reunification is the GOALIn case you or someone you know needs to be reminded, I’ll say it again: Reunification is the GOAL.

I know it’s a foreign concept to people outside “the system.” And sometimes it’s easy for a foster parent to forget.

When you foster a child, the plan is to give them back.

And not because of parents’ rights, and not because the system is broken, and not because people are lazy or don’t do their jobs or don’t care about the kids.

Reunification is the goal, because study after study, statistic after statistic, have shown that children who remain with their birth parents fare better than those who don’t.

That’s why, regardless of who can provide better opportunities, or who has a better job or lives in a better neighborhood, or who has made more sacrifices or attended more doctor appointments, whenever it can be done safely, reunification is the goal.

Because when it can be done safely, reunification IS what’s best for the child.

It’s easy to forget because we really do love these children like our own.

It’s entirely too easy for a foster parent to say, “if someone took my kid, I would jump through any hoop to get them back” or “if I only got to see my daughter for one hour per week, nothing would keep me away” or “the bio dad doesn’t deserve to get her back; he has NEVER made her well-being a priority.” I know those things are easy to say, because I’ve said them.

I’ve also adopted two precious boys who couldn’t safely be returned to their birth families.

I need the reminder myself sometimes.

I belong to several foster parent groups on Facebook, and I often see posts by foster parents who’re having a bad day and venting to people who understand. But sometimes I wonder if some of them need a perspective adjustment.

I see people venting that the baby has been in care for 6 weeks and the parents have done NOTHING! And other foster parents chime in about how broken the system is and how unreasonable it is that these parents will get multiple chances to get their child back.

And I really just want to ask what exactly they expect. I don’t usually, because I know that they are just venting, and I hope that in their offline, real, everyday life, they do support birth parents and reunification. And that they’re just having a bad day and venting to the only people that understand.

But really, humor me for a minute and let’s imagine:

You’re living your life. You have some issues and know that you’ll never win Mother of the Year, but your kids are fed, more or less. You’re not beating them, or putting cigarettes out on their arms, or doing any kind of permanent damage.

Then some bureaucrat shows up and barges into your house and tells you that not only are you not Mother of the Year, you are World’s Worst Mother, and she’s taking your kids. Today. Right Now.

You swear that this can’t actually be happening. You see the news, there are people out there doing really horrible things to their kids. Hell! you know people that are much worse parents than you. What about that women in Walmart last week that you saw yank her kid around by the ponytail? Nobody took her kid….

How long do you think it takes for the wake-up call to actually wake you up? How long before you realize that you really do have a drug problem and that it really is affecting your kids? 6 weeks? 6 months? A year? When that wake-up call comes, what if it’s too late? What if you were allotted 6 months to change your whole life, and it took you 3 months to wake up, and now it’s too late to jump through all the hoops before you’re out of time.

How many chances does a child get to grow up with the woman who birthed her? If there’s a chance that the family can be safely reunified, the children deserve that chance.



  1. joni sane

    thanks. i needed this today. court is in a few weeks and i’m trying to keep this perspective. its hard. it sucks. she’s been with us for 9 months now. we love her. she loves us. my family loves her. ours parents tell us she’d be so much better off with us. i try to tell them and everyone that asks us about her situation that it really is better for her to live with bio mom. i really don’t feel that way in my heart but if i keep telling myself (and others) that maybe i’ll start to believe it!! i’m trying to reach out to bio mom. i know the only way to maintain a relationship with J is to build one with bio mom….its hard!!

    1. Jamie Nestrick (Post author)

      I’m glad you found it helpful. I know that I definitely need a reminder now and again.

      It’s really hard to be as attached as we get and still remember that leaving us (and breaking our hearts) is the best thing for them.

      Good luck with connecting with bio. Do you think it will help if you try to be intentional about seeing through her perspective?

  2. Jamie

    Well I take issue with a couple of points you make in this article I don’t completely disagree with you.
    Yes of course reunification is ALWAYS the first choice, when it can be done safely. I certainly respect your message that as foster parents we need to keep that foremost in our minds and honestly I think most do. It’s hard to love unconditionally a child and their biological parent. And not be emotional about it. We get frustratd because we want to see them successful, but when they aren’t taking hold of the hand that’s extended it leave us to not only is to pick up the pieces of our disappointments but more importantly of their child.
    Since you make reference to “studies” can you provide those? I’d like to read them because as far as I know there’s not a biological parent that post reunification would participate in a study. None that I know would. And how do you even compare the two?
    Secondly, since we are talking about the safety and well being of the child, how long is fair to ask them to live with, bond to, and integrate into a family with no permanency in sight. Yes maybe it takes bio mom/dad 6 months to wake up, then you wake up and do the dang work. If you are working your plan you get more time. Simple as that.
    But when 6 months have passed, or a year, how is that fair to a child who is now bonded somewhere else? Who has likely experienced care, love, security unlike anything they’ve ever had. As far as studies go let me share this with you.
    Damage is being done to a child who has a parent who is neglecting them. It alters their brain development and therefore leaves a permanent change that never is undone.

    These are just a sampling of the research done on the cause and effect of neglect. Don’t tell me that mostly fed and ok isn’t causing them harm because we all know if you have a drug problem your only priority is getting your next fix. Not the baby who’s been in the same diaper since yesterday covered in dirt and hungry because you haven’t fed him in the last 12-24 hours because you were too strung out.
    You can’t be a drug addict (since that was your choice of example) and be a successful and SAFE parent. Not if you don’t wake up and get help being offered to you and engage in your service plans.

    1. Jamie Nestrick (Post author)

      I don’t disagree with everything you’re saying.

      I do disagree that MOST foster parents keep in mind, or even believe, that reunification is the best choice, when it can be done safely. We all should. But as you said (and so did I), sometimes it’s hard to remember that when you invest as much into these kids as good foster parents do.

      Do you know anyone who was adopted? Have you ever experienced first-hand, or even second-hand, the identity crisis that is inherent in being adopted? If you haven’t, I strongly, strongly recommend that you start reading things written from the perspective of an adoptee – or even former foster kids. Then come back and let’s talk about how long bio parents should have to work their plan. I don’t know the answer to that, and I don’t think you do either. There is no ONE answer. It’s going to vary by age of the child, history of the parent, and a thousand other things. I do know that my area has some of the slowest rates to permanency. I also know that we have the lowest rate of bounce-backs in the state.

      My point was that writing someone off after 6 weeks is unreasonable and unfair and not in the best interest of the child. I never said that cases should go on forever or that kids should hang out in limbo forever. I have personally witnessed SEVERAL conversations among foster parents that basically boil down to

      “well, bio-dad had 6 months to work his plan, he didn’t finish in 6 months, game over. I should get to adopt this child because I love her and deserve her more than he does. So what that he’s been visiting consistently and slowly working his plan? He had 6 months, his time is up and I’m ready to move on. But no, the system is broken, so he gets another chance, just because he hasn’t failed a drug screen in 2 months and has taken his parenting classes.”

      And I understand that perspective ALL too clearly, because (I am embarrassed to admit) my perspective was very similar to that with Lady Bug’s case. And I was wrong. And so are the foster parents that are ready to right off bio parents after 2 months.

      And then I asked you to see things from the bio parent’s perspective I never said that neglect isn’t damaging. Not once. But from their perspective, they’re not that bad of a parent. And starting from that belief, it’s unreasonable for ANYONE to expect them to IMMEDIATELY start jumping through hoops.

      And I certainly never said that a drug addict should get their child back without realizing their problem and taking advantage of the services offered.

    2. Jamie Nestrick (Post author)

      With all of the above being said, I will be happy to give you some resources that support the idea that children who are safely raised by the birth parents fare better than those who aren’t, just as soon as I can carve out the time to pull the resources together. I am currently experiencing some extreme technical difficulties with getting my blog migrated to the new domain, along with being a mother to 3 boys under 3 and a CPA heading into tax season.

      I don’t have that information ready-to-hand, because it didn’t occur to me that that wasn’t something that was generally understood and accepted.

  3. Julie

    Can you please link to the studies that claim that children absolutely fare better growing up with bioparents regardless of neglect or abuse? I asked about this in MAPP class but was never given a concrete answer. I support safe reunification, but I wonder/doubt how valid the comparisons can be when there are many reportedly abusive foster parents, and the fact that there’s no way to compare one child’s known to a total unknown.

    And I say all this as someone heavily involved in adult adoptee perspectives, etc.

    1. Jamie Nestrick (Post author)

      As far as I am aware, nobody has ever said that children fare better with their biological parents regardless of neglect or abuse. When parents can learn to parent SAFELY and families can be maintained together SAFELY, that results in the best outcomes for children.

      Obviously, any parent that cannot learn to correct their unsafe behavior should not have children returned to them.

      That being said, I will be happy to give you some resources that support the idea that children who are safely raised by the birth parents fare better than those who aren’t, just as soon as I can carve out the time to pull the resources together. I am currently experiencing some extreme technical difficulties with getting my blog migrated to the new domain, along with being a mother to 3 boys under 3 and a CPA heading into tax season.

  4. melissa

    I agree with you, reunification is always the goal, and that is the hard part of fostering. I was a volunteer guardian ad litem and we were taught that, it was instilled in us that if its possible, if the parents can “get their act together” and make the changes they need to make then yes they need to get their children back. It was easy to have that train of thought then. But when I started doing foster care, it was entirely different emotions. You know that is the goal, but it is hard when you care and love the children and provide for them what their parents couldn’t. My first foster placement was 2 children, I had them for a year and it was a roller coaster of a year. We were able to adopt them both, and I am so grateful because I can’t imagine my life without them. I haven’t fostered since then. I knew I wouldn’t have been able to handle it had they left us. It takes a very strong person to be able to be a foster parent, and do it for the right reasons. I commend anyone that can do it!

    1. Jamie Nestrick (Post author)

      Thank you for reading and sharing your experience.

      Have you thought about volunteering again? I’m sure that after your experience as a foster parent, you realize even more the value of GALs.

  5. melissa

    I actually have a HUGE passion for the children in our foster care system! I am currently going to school (while being a mom to 3 and working part time) to become a social worker 🙂 It’s a slow process for me because of all my home and family obligations but I know one day I reach my goal and if i can make a difference in just one child’s life it will be worth it! I loved being a GAL! I would highly recommend it to anyone with that passion!
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    1. Jamie Nestrick (Post author)

      Thank you so much for sharing!. Good luck with school. I have been a Guardian ad Litem and obviously am currently a foster and adoptive parent. Social Worker and Child Protective Investigator are the two jobs in the system that I absolutely COULD NOT do. Thank you for doing it.

  6. The Beautiful Opportunity

    Losing your parents, siblings and extended birth family is one of the biggest wounds a child can experience. I recall seeing studies that show a moderately abused or neglected child is better off being reunited rather than permanently removed via foster care to adoption. Pretty crazy, huh? I can’t seem to find them at the moment, though.

    On the other hand, children can’t be left in limbo forever and need permanency. That’s why the 15/22 rule exists with many states using concurrent planning. If you want to know more about how the 15/22 rule governs how long birth families have to reunite with their kids, check out my post
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    1. Jamie Nestrick (Post author)

      Thank you for sharing. I am running into a similar problem. I know that I’ve seen these studies, but I’m coming up blank trying to track them down. But I *am* still working on it.

  7. joni sane

    ok. this waiting to find out is driving me crazy!!! we have court next monday, 2/2/15. CW nor GAL will talk about it at all. i just hate not knowing. will she leave that day? will i need to have her bags packed? will she stay? how long will that be? OMG….i am going to be miserable this week!!!

    1. Jamie Nestrick (Post author)

      I *completely understand. I always hate being close to a major decision and waiting…. I can deal with just about anything as long as I have a plan, or know the plan, or can make a plan.

      Somehow, the uncertainty that is inherent in foster care doesn’t really bother me – until we are close to a major decision. I will add y’all to my prayer list – wisdom for all, and your sanity 😉

  8. anne

    hi. i have often thought of telling our adoption story on a blog, im a little shy though, and the stories are all so different it might take longer to tell than folks might want to read.. i wanted to comment though on re-unification.. i have adopted 5 beautiful children – 4 through foster care, 1 international – i have fostered so many little ones (and big ones!) over the years that i have lost count. there have been many times that working with birth parents has brought about re-unification and my kids in care have been able to return safely to their birth homes. it is never easy to let go as i become very attached to each and every kid that comes to my home . i have had situations that i thought would never work out, situations where children where so badly abused that they had permanent disablities ( my 5 adoptions are actually all with children that are disabled) what i find to be a huge problem is how long everything takes with judges making a decision regarding re-unification. over here i have had kids in care for more than 3 years (despite the 15 months “rule”) its so hard on the kids – as well as on the foster parents – i feel that things cant be worked out after a couple of years that everyone (courts, attorneys, case workers etc) need to push a little harder for permanency in an adoptive home for the child. just saying.


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