§4 ch10: Permanency Through Reunification
10.3 Factors to Consider in Family Reunification
10.3.1 Written Service Agreement
The Written Service Agreement has four purposes:
- Provides overall structure and direction to the casework process through the identification of goals and assignment of time-limited tasks.
- Documents the willingness of the family to participate in reunification services and the Division and other FST members' willingness to assist by providing services.
- Provides an instrument to evaluate the progress of the family toward reunification and the accountability of all participants.
- Documents the Division’s "reasonable efforts" to reunify families.
10.3.2 Permanency Planning
If the Permanency Plan is Reunification, the Written Service Agreement shall be developed with the child’s parents/caretakers, and, when feasible, the child.
All parties to the agreement or their agent/representative shall sign the CS-1. If any party refuses to sign, the Children’s Service Worker shall document that party’s disagreement and the reason for the disagreement.
It is essential that the Written Service Agreement be specific about:
- What the FST hopes to accomplish during the treatment process;
- Treatment goals;
- How the FST intends to accomplish the defined goals (Tasks); and
- When the tasks will be performed and completed (Time Limitations).
10.3.3 Assessment of Family Functioning
If the primary permanency plan is reunification, a combination of the CS-1, which is a child specific assessment of the child’s needs as well a thorough and comprehensive assessment of the family’s functioning, found in the CD-14 and CD-14A, is essential to the development of a Written Service Agreement that will address the challenges and barriers to reunifying the child (ren) with the family of origin.
10.3.4 Reunification Factors
10.3.4.1 Factors to Consider in Reunification Related to Physical Abuse:
- What type of abuse occurred?
- How severe was the abuse?
- How often did physical abuse occur?
- Conditions in the household which exist at the time of the abuse, i.e., what was going on right before the child was hurt (If a caretaker has admitted to the abuse, what was happening just before they hit the child?). Who was the primary target of abuse? One child, all the children? Can the parent explain why one child was targeted?
- What purpose did the abuse serve (parent’s perception, i.e., discipline, outlet for anger, and/or frustration)? Was physical abuse a part of parent’s parenting, i.e., was parent physically abused as a child?
- Have any incidents of abuse occurred since intervention (during prolonged visits)?
- What has been the visitation plan; what has occurred during visitation? This information maybe documented in FACES, on the Supervised Visitation Checklist (CD-86) and/or the Visitation Reaction Form (CD-85).
- What treatment services has the parent received to alter past problem behavior? Has parent actively participated in treatment? Has parent benefited from treatment?
- What is required of parent and other family members to prevent recurrence of abuse? State specific behaviors parent has learned (utilized/demonstrated) to replace past abusive behavior.
- Who will parent call if past behavior recurs or if parent feels behavior could recur? Does parent/child know the indicators that behavior has/will recur and when to call?
- Who will child tell if abusive behavior recurs in the household?
- Is an aftercare plan written, and do all treatment team members have a copy of the plan?
10.3.4.1.1 What Must Happen Before the Child Returns Home in Abuse Cases
The likelihood of abusive behavior recurring should be the primary basis for deciding whether or not the child should return home. This is often difficult to establish with any certainty. For this reason and because of the possible serious consequences to the child, any disposition of an abuse case (or serious abuse) should be a shared decision. Expert opinions from psychologists or psychiatrists can be helpful in determining potential for further abuse.
10.3.4.2 Factors to Consider in Reunification Related to Neglect:
- What type of neglect has occurred in the family, i.e., physical, emotional, etc.
- How long had neglect occurred? Generational; stress induced; intermittent?
- Have treatment services targeted the type of neglect which occurred, i.e., if poverty contributed to the neglect, have those conditions changed, and will the new stability continue to support reunification of the children?
- How will child readjust to family if reunification means reduction in material standards? Has this been discussed with the child and the parent(s)?
- What is required of the parent(s) and other family members to prevent the recurrence of the problem? Include specific behavior which must or must not occur.
- What has been the visitation plan? What has occurred during visitation? This information may be documented in FACES, on the Supervised Visitation Checklist (CD-86) and/or the Visitation Reaction Form (CD-85).
- Who will parent(s) or child call if help is needed to prevent recurrence of the neglect; will the parent(s)/child know when to call?
- Does the parent know community support systems and how to access those services?
- Is an aftercare plan written, and do all Family Support Team members have a copy of the plan?
10.3.4.2.1 What Must Happen Before the Child Returns Home in Neglect Cases
Neglectful parents are probably the most difficult to work with to bring about changes necessary to return a child home. There are usually a range of factors that contributed to the removal of the child including the condition of the home, the parents' inability to adequately supervise the child, or the psychological or behavioral issues of the parents. While these are interrelated, changes must occur in each area before the child can return home.
Parents who exhibit characteristics of the apathy-futility syndrome can be very draining to work with, but those characteristics that make the parents most difficult are the same that need to be changed. Without change in the parent’s approach to problem solving and relationships, the neglect will likely recur.
10.3.4.3 Substance Abuse or Mental Illness
If substance abuse or mental illness is contributing to the abuse or neglect, these should be assessed and treated first. The professionals involved with the treatment should be willing to indicate that the parent has made sufficient gains to be able to adequately supervise her child or children.
Because the following changes may take a long time, it is not reasonable to expect all of them to be accomplished before a child is returned home. Instead, there must be some indication that changes are beginning to occur.
10.3.4.4 Factors to Consider in Reunification Related to Sexual Abuse
- What type of sexual abuse occurred?
- Who was the perpetrator?
- Who in the family was abused? Any siblings?
- Did family receive and participate in services specific to sexual abuse?
- Was the criminal justice system involved with the family? Is prosecution process completed?
- Who in the family will protect this child? Who would child tell if sexual abuse recurs?
- What is required of parent(s) and other family members to prevent recurrence of the problem? Include specific behaviors which either must or must not occur.
- What has been the visitation plan; what has occurred during visitation? This information may be documented in FACES, on the Supervised Visitation Checklist (CD-86) and/or the Visitation Reaction Form (CD-85).
- Is an aftercare plan written and do all Family Support Team members have a copy of the plan?
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.
10.3.4.4.1 What Must Happen Before the Child Returns Home in Sexual Abuse/Incest Cases
Before the child can return home, the perpetrator must no longer have access to the child. The external impediments to the abuse must be reinforced. The perpetrator must strengthen his internal inhibitions.
Work should begin on all levels. The perpetrator must engage in treatment to understand his cycle of arousal and how to use internal and external inhibitors to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring. The non-perpetrating parent must decide to support the child. Both the parent(s) and child must be in therapy. In treatment the non-perpetrating parent must learn how to advocate for the child and to make changes in the family to protect the child from abuse. The child must learn that he/she has control over what happens to him/her and that he/she can resist the perpetrator if they are still in the home. The child must be supported by the non-perpetrating parent and by the therapist.
The child can return home when family members are able to provide the external impediments necessary to prevent the abuse from occurring again. These may include removal of the perpetrator.