Chapter 5 : Section 1

Family Reunification

Policy

The Department shall seek to reunify families when the child can be safely maintained in the home with a sufficient, feasible and sustainable safety plan, or a determination has been made that the child is not in impending danger in the home.

The Department shall conduct a background check of all adult household members and all adults who have been identified as having caregiving responsibilities of the child in the home before a child in out-of-home care is reunified with a parent, unless the court has ordered immediate reunification. The results shall be considered when completing the Family Functioning Assessment.

The Department shall provide continued support and supervision after a child has returned home, to reduce the likelihood of reentry into foster care.

Procedures

Reunifying the Family

Unless the court has ordered immediate reunification as a result of the Preliminary Protective Hearing and/or Initial Dependency Hearing, the Department will seek to reunify families when:

  • the Conditions for Return have been met; and

  • a Family Functioning Assessment has been completed (see FFA-Progress Update for information on requirements for background checks prior to reunification), and the results of the in-home safety analysis indicate the child can be maintained in the home with a safety plan; or

  • the parent, guardian and/or custodian’s protective capacities are sufficiently enhanced such that there is no indication of impending danger and a safety plan is not necessary.

Once the determination has been made that it is appropriate to begin the reunification transition process, convene a Team Decision Making meeting to:

  • confirm agreement amongst the family members and service team regarding the change in permanency goal from family reunification to remain with family;

  • identify the needs of the child and family associated with this change;

  • gain consensus on tasks, services, and supports to be included in the case plan to address the identified needs;

  • develop a detailed reunification plan, taking into account the specific needs of the parents and child, particularly with respect to concrete supports, social supports and connections, parenting knowledge and skills, and the behavioral and emotional needs of the children; and

  • revise the safety plan (if needed) following the policy and procedures in Safety Planning.

If the parent, guardian and/or custodian’s protective capacities are sufficiently enhanced, so that there is no indication of impending danger and a safety plan is not necessary:

  • proceed with transition planning and engage the family to create an aftercare plan following the policy and procedures in Aftercare Planning and Services, and

  • with input from the family and service team, identify a period of time during which services and family functioning will be monitored as necessary until case closure.

Developing the Reunification Plan

Prior to reunification, talk with the child, parents, guardians and/or custodians about their thoughts, feelings, worries, hopes, and practical issues that may need to be addressed during the transition. Involve the out-of-home care provider, extended family, parents, guardians and/or custodians, and service team members in discussions about their roles in supporting the child’s transition home. Discuss whether the Family Connections Program should be referred or continued to support the family’s reunification plan. See Parent Skill-Building Services.

Create a reunification plan that addresses the child and family’s needs and includes the following:

  • changes to the family contact plan;

  • communication and/or contact with the out-of-home caregiver to support the child’s well-being and transition home;

  • specific timeframes for when activities will occur (e.g. change in services, school enrollment, return home date, etc.); and

  • a specified period of time, to be determined in consultation with the family and involved service providers, for continued support and supervision.

Make active efforts to assist the parent in arranging for the child’s reunification with the family by reviewing the following areas and incorporating into the reunification plan actions and/or strategies to address where appropriate:

  • development and early learning (applies to children with previously identified concerns with regard to development):

    • plan to address any previously identified needs or continue existing services/supports;

  • educational needs:

    • confirm the parents have information about all schools (including pre-Kindergarten or another preparatory program) the child attended while in out-of-home care;

    • identify the most appropriate school placement; and

    • plan with the school to transition the child’s special education services; if applicable;

  • physical health:

    • confirm the parents have information about the child’s medical providers while in out-of-home care, most recent well checks, any diagnoses, and medications;

    • provide information to the parents regarding any upcoming medical and dental appointments; and

    • ensure the parents know how to seek health insurance for the children;

  • behavioral health needs:

    • if the child is receiving behavioral health services, work with the service team to create a plan for transition of services (if needed) and address any potential barriers to the child continuing to receive needed services; and

    • if the child is not currently receiving behavioral health services, provide the parents with information on how to access behavioral health services in the future should the need arise;

  • child care arrangements:

    • work with the parents to ensure they have an appropriate plan in place to provide supervision for the children when needed, e.g. babysitting, afterschool program, daycare, etc.;

  • community or recreational activities for the child; and

  • concrete support (e.g., bed, formula, etc.) and other resources or services needed to support reunification.

Complete the Motion for Change of Physical Custody to request that the Attorney General's Office petition the court for a change of physical custody order. Include:

  • the results of the in-home safety analysis and justification for an in-home safety plan; or

  • the results of the Family Functioning Assessment that indicate the child is safe.

Once the court has ordered the change of physical custody and the child has been returned to the parents:

  • notify all required parties of the child’s new location within 24 business hours;

  • end-date the Removal Status immediately upon the child’s return to the parent’s physical custody;

  • update the case plan as follows:

    • copy forward the case plan;

    • change the goal to remain with family;

    • select reasonable candidate if continued services are necessary; and

    • finalize the case plan with the original effective dates; and

  • provide the parents with any documentation necessary in order for them to be able to enroll the children in school, seek medical care for the children, and to apply for state benefits on behalf of their child.

Closing the Case after Family Reunification

Petition the court to dismiss a dependency order when all of the following are true:

  • A Family Functioning Assessment – Progress Update has been completed and the child is assessed as safe. Follow policy in Family Functioning Assessment – Progress Update.

  • The family does not require a service that can only be provided with Department oversight.

  • A supervisory case progress review was held, and the DCS Program Supervisor approves recommending dismissing the dependency.

  • The DCS Specialist has met with the family and developed and documented an aftercare plan following the procedures found in Aftercare Planning and Services including providing the family with a printed copy of the aftercare plan.

  • The DCS Specialist has submitted any necessary referrals to community services.

  • Contact the Attorney General's Office to arrange to petition the court to dismiss the dependency.

Once the court has signed the Order for Dismissal, ensure the case record is complete and document the case closure in the Closure Tab.

Documentation

Document the Team Decision Making meeting in the Notes Tab designated as Staffing type.

Print the results of the DPS check and place in the hard copy record in a sealed envelope marked “Confidential”.

Document the transition plan in the Team Decision Making summary report.

Document the parent's plan for reunification in the Family Functioning Assessment – Progress Update.

File written reports and evaluations in the hard copy case record.

Document the meeting with the child and the child's parent or guardian and other service team members as appropriate to discuss aftercare services in the Notes Tab designated as Case Conference/Staffing type. Include documentation of the outcome of the meetings.

Document the aftercare plan in the Closure Tab.

End all service requests using the Service Requests Tab.

Effective Date: July 23, 2021
Revision History: October 15, 2018, February 1, 2021