§4 ch10: Permanency Through Reunification
10.11 Steps Taken in the Process of Returning the Child
10.11.1 Assess Parents' Progress
Assess parents' progress in resolving the initial problem necessitating placement and identify with the parents a tentative return date. Consistent contact with the family in the home is essential to assessing the progress of the family and for recommending reunification. The Children’s Service Worker should meet in the home, face-to-face with the family at a minimum of once per month during the course of the intervention. However, this contact should increase as the family progresses toward reunification.
Parents/caretakers who are or may be eligible for temporary assistance should be evaluated for the Families Together program.
10.11.2 Prepare Summary of Recommendation for Court
Prepare a summary for court and request custody be returned to the parent, unless special circumstances exist (i.e., Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) cases, the court has previously indicated an expectation that CD retain custody, trial home visits if the child has been out of the home for a relatively long period of time).
No child shall be returned to his/her parents for the purpose of a permanent placement without first informing the court of the placement and assuring that the court order allows such a placement.
10.11.3 Development and Implementation of Reunification Support/Written Service Agreement
The Children’s Service Worker and the FST shall develop a time-limited Reunification Support/Written Service Agreement with the parent and child (if appropriate) which outlines the continued responsibilities of the Division, parent, and child 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.
If the birth parent(s) or legal guardian resides out of state and the case plan is to reunite the family, Interstate Compact procedures shall be followed. For example, the receiving state will be requested to evaluate the home of the parent(s) and approve or disapprove the pending placement.
The receiving state should agree to monitor the placement. The sending state will retain legal custody until the receiving state recommends that custody be returned to the parent(s) or legal guardian.
10.11.4 Preparing the Birth Parent(s)
In preparation for the child’s return, the Children’s Service Worker and parent should discuss anticipated issues and develop plans for coping with those issues. These issues include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Change in parents' lifestyle, particularly if they have not had any child care responsibility;
- How current family relationships might be affected;
- Child’s behavior,(i.e., feelings of separation and loss from resource provider, testing rules and limits);
- Child may compare parents to resource provider;
- Child must adjust to new community and school;
- Child may feel insecure and be "clingy" due to fear of another separation from parents; and
- Parents may have periods of uncertainty about their ability to adequately meet the child’s needs.
As the time for the child’s return nears, visits between parent(s) and child should be more frequent and of longer duration (i.e., overnight, weekends, etc.). Also, the parent(s) will likely need additional support during this time. The Children’s Service Worker should attempt to meet face-to-face with the parent(s) at least once per week in the home during this transition phase.
Prior to the child’s actual return to the home, the Children’s Service Worker shall provide the parent(s) and child with a reunification packet which must contain:
- The original birth certificate (a copy of the original must be retained in the case record);
- The original social security card (a copy of the original must be retained in the record);
- Copies of medical records or medical log, including immunization record and names and addresses of primary medical practitioners. This summary shall emphasize special medical needs of the child and appropriate treatment;
- A copy of report cards, transcript or grade records and the most current Individualized Education Plan (IEP);
- Written information or brochures on helpful resources (i.e., food stamps, housing authority, and energy assistance). The Children’s Service Worker shall assist the family in accessing these services in the community;
- Written summary of out-of-home placements and his/her growth, behaviors, and experiences during that time;
- Pictures of the child contained in the case record;
- Personal records (i.e., baptism record);
- Information regarding the child’s KIDS account. The Children’s Service Worker shall assist the family in the payee application process if the child has been receiving Social Security Administration (SSA), Old Age, Survivors, Disability Insurance (OASDI) or Social Security Income (SSI) benefits;
- Life book; and
- Application for Medical Insurance (if applicable).
In addition to the continued responsibilities of the agency, parent and child, the aftercare plan shall address the specific needs of the family and child, (i.e., child care, medical care, counseling, parent aide services and other supportive services).
Title XIX MO HealthNet should be open from the time the child enters foster care until the court terminates jurisdiction or returns legal custody to the parents unless the family requests that it be closed earlier. The Children’s Service Worker will need to ensure that the parent receives the MO HealthNet card to use for the child. If applicable, the worker should encourage the parent to apply for medical insurance benefits through Family Support Division for the child, if needed, prior to the termination of jurisdiction to ensure that there is no disruption in insurance coverage for the child.
If the child is going to be approved for MO HealthNet coverage through FSD, the worker should inform the FSD worker when the court is going to terminate jurisdiction or returns legal custody to the parents so they can coordinate the closing of the Alternative Care Client Information screen, SS-61 in FACES with the opening of Mo HealthNet in FSD.
Family Support Division staff will not be allowed to open the child’s Medicaid eligibility if the child has an active AC function in FACES. Staff may close the Title XIX in FACES prior to termination of jurisdiction if the child has insurance coverage elsewhere. To close the Title XIX Information, staff should enter an end date under the Title XIX Information section on the AC Client Information screen in FACES.
10.11.5 Preparing the Child
When the recommendation of the FST is return of the child to the birth parent(s), steps should be taken to prepare the child for this move. The amount and kind of preparation necessary will vary according to the child’s age, length of time in out-of-home care and relationship with the birth parent(s) and resource provider. The resource provider shall be involved in, and aware of, the plans to return the child to the birth parent(s). The resource provider will need to take appropriate steps to prepare the child for separation. The positive attitude of the resource provider toward the return of the child to the birth parent(s) will influence the child’s view of return.
The following steps should be taken by the Children’s Service Worker, resource provider, and parents in preparing the child for reunification with his/her family:
- Privately discuss with the child their feelings regarding reunification with the parent. Address fears, anxiety, expectations, responsibilities and safeguards that ensure the child’s safety. The Children’s Service Worker should recognize that the child may feel more comfortable discussing reunification issues with the current resource provider. Conversely, the child may experience feelings of disloyalty to the resource provider for wanting to return home. Also, the child may experience feelings of disloyalty to parents demonstrated by new acting out behavior.
- The child’s visits with the parent(s) should become more frequent and longer in duration with increasing child care responsibility given to the parent. When the child will be with the parent for a week or longer, the Children’s Service Worker should make at least one home visit with the family during the extended visit to assure safety and provide support to the family.
- Provide opportunity for the parents, child, resource provider, and Children’s Service Worker to identify and resolve problems which occur during visits.
- The resource provider shall assist the child in making the transition to the birth family.
- The Children’s Service Worker and the resource provider should review the child’s life book with the child and biological parent during the transition phase of reunification.
10.11.6 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 also 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.
10.11.7 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.
10.11.8 Develop Visitation Schedule
When the FST recommends a trial home visit, the worker, along with the FST, should develop a visitation schedule. Both announced and unannounced visits should be conducted to assess the safety of all household members. The household is to be visited a minimum of once a week for the first 30 days of a trial home visit by the Children’s Service Worker. The visit with the child should continue to be documented in FACES on the Contact Communication Log with a purpose of “worker with child” and in the location of “in child’s placement”. Contact after the initial 30 days shall be based upon the assessed level of risk on the Risk Re-Assessment, CS-16E. The minimum contact standards are outlined in Section 2 Chapter 9.
10.11.9 Post-Reunification Support
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 the minimum expectations for worker contact with the family:
- Assure that face-to-face contact with family and child in the home occurs once a week for the first month of reunion by the Children’s Service Worker;
- The Children’s Services Worker must update the FCS Family Assessment, CD-14 and Family Functioning Assessment/Reassessment, CD-14A during the first 30 days and complete the Risk Re-Assessment, CS-16E;
- Face-to-face contact with parent(s) and child(ren) in the home according to the minimum contact standards indicated on the Risk Re-Assessment, CS-16E, thereafter until the court terminates jurisdiction;
- Identify community supports 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) for accessing primary and preventative health care, including prenatal care, well-baby, and post-natal care;
- Contact by telephone, 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; and
- Closure visit after the court terminates jurisdiction, at which time the Children’s Service Worker should complete the Termination of Services/Aftercare Plan, CD-14D.
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.
The Children’s Service Worker should utilize the Parental Home Visit Checklist (CD-83) to address these issues and to assess the continued safety of the child(ren) in the parental home.
10.11.10 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.
10.11.11 Termination of Reunification Support Services
Termination of reunification support services shall be a planned and natural component of the casework process. Due to its importance in the provision of services, the Children’s Service Worker should prepare carefully for this process. Skills in terminating the helping relationship are just as important as skills that are used in establishing the relationship. The following are important factors to consider when recommending termination of aftercare services. However, this list is not all encompassing and the FST should consider the circumstances of each family:
- The family has stabilized and the risk of abuse/neglect to the child is minimal:
- The client is engaging in those behaviors which were defined as desirable in the original or modified treatment plan.
- Evidence exists that the family has methods that support the capacity to cope adequately with life stresses, problems, and complexities without producing harm to the child(ren).
- The parents are capable of establishing warm, give and take, relationships with others and expresses recognition for the individuality of the family members.
- The parents can tolerate frustration and other discomfort such as anxiety, guilt, anger, or grief.
- The parents can use his energies to concentrate on meeting the needs of the children and others.
- The reasons for needed services no longer exist.
- Consultation with service providers used in the treatment plan supports the client’s progress or improved degree of well-being and safety of the children.
- The family has demonstrated an awareness of available community support services, i.e., counseling, and the ability to utilize these services as necessary.
- Closure has been discussed with the family and they are aware of the plan.
- The family has optimally benefited from services and is not likely to demonstrate further progress given additional services.
- Court jurisdiction has been terminated.
- The family has stabilized and the risk of abuse/neglect to the child is minimal:
10.11.12 Procedures for Closing a Case
The following procedures are required by the Children’s Service Worker after the FST has determined that aftercare services should be terminated and the court has terminated jurisdiction. Once the family, worker and supervisor agree on a closing date, the worker must meet with the family within 15 days of the decision to close the case. The purpose of this visit is:
- To address any unresolved issues relating to the termination of services.
- The worker will use the Termination of Services/After Care Plan (CD-14D) tool to summarize the family’s positive change and the aftercare plan developed to sustain that change and maintain an acceptable level of risk. The worker should:
- Discuss/document positive behavioral changes that have occurred in the family’s functioning and the reduction of risk.
- Discuss/document challenges to maintaining positive growth;
- Discuss/document family’s strengths to build on;
- Discuss/document supports/services formal/informal needed for continued progress.
- Discuss/develop/document an aftercare plan with the family including any services/support remaining in place that will maintain positive changes.
- The plan should address the sustainability of positive change and linkage with formal or informal supports/services the family can access to maintain acceptable risk.
- Determine that the family knows how to access support systems and resources independently;
- This plan should also include appropriate numbers or contacts the family can access in time of crisis that may impact the children’s risk or immediate safety; and
- Identify any remaining problem areas to which problem-solving can be applied.
- Confirm the closing decision and date of closing with the family members;
- Notify the family of the termination of contracted services;
To finalize the closing of the case staff should do the following:
- Inform all contracted service providers and others involved in the Written Service Agreement of the decision to close the case and closing date;
- Send a letter to the family reminding them of the agreed upon date of closing and offer services if needed by the family in the future.
- Ensure that the court order terminating jurisdiction is in the file.
- The Children’s Service Worker shall close the necessary forms which include all service authorizations, the Alternative Care Client Information screen, and Family-Centered Services Information screen in FACES, and the KIDS account.
- If the child exits care, closing information must be entered into FACES as soon as possible but no later than 2 business days after the change occurs.
- The Children’s Services Supervisor must approve the case closure as soon as possible but no later than 2 business days after the worker enters the function closing.
Sources: The Risk Assessment was adapted from the Utah Child Protective Services Risk Assessment Project, Utah Department of Social Services, and the Utah Child Welfare Training Project, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Utah; 1987.
The Risk Assessment was adapted from Understanding Families, written by Jo Ann Allen, with contributions by Eloise Cornelius and Consuelo Lopez, and edited by Kittsu Swanson. It was developed under Contract #105-79-1107 for the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children, Youth and Families, Office of Human Development Services, United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Technical Assistance in the development of the Family Assessment and Treatment Plan, its explanation, and instructions was provided by the National Resource Center on Family-Based Services, University of Iowa School of Social Work, Iowa City, Iowa.