Iowa will be having a large reunification Picnic on June 15th at a park in Des Moines. They will be transporting families from Polk and 14 area counties, including Boone, Story, Dallas, Madison, Warren, Marion, Adams, Union, Adair, Clark, Lucas, Ringgold, Decatur, and Wayne counties. The state will celebrate the families that are working towards reunification or have been reunified. There will be free food, games, giveaways, a wading pool, a DJ and many other activities. DHS workers, attorneys, Judges, child welfare administrators and providers will all be there to participate in the festivities! 

Denise Moore, Iowa DHS (515)725-2736

Iowa, a founder of Reunification Month

Since 2001, the Polk County Model Court in Des Moines, Iowa has been celebrating Adoption Saturday.  Inspired by the success of Adoption Saturday and the way it advanced greater understanding and community support of child welfare and adoption issues, Mary Nelson, an administrator at the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) had the idea of celebrating families who had successfully reunified.  Her vision included a community picnic with food, games and festivities for all. 

While many people were enthused about the idea of celebrating families who had reunified, some people had concerns.  People worried about safety – what if a former violent partner decided to attend the event?  The plan was for a picnic in a public park so there would not be a lot of security.  Others worried about the judges and attorneys attending the event.  What if people had open cases or their cases came back to court? Could there be issues with ex partecommunications at the picnic?  The event planners decided to forge ahead with the event, despite some people’s concerns.  

The first reunification celebration picnic was held in July of 2007 at a local park in Des Moines.  The planners decided to hold the event at a local park, rather than the court house, since many families do not associate court with happy times.  The Model Court, Drake Law School Middleton Children’s Rights Center, Parent Partners (a peer parent mentor project), and the Polk County Fatherhood Initiative took the lead in the event planning.  The event was funded with decategorization funds (flexible funds available for targeted projects or services) from DHS.  Since the park was not on a bus route, the Fatherhood Initiative arranged for a van to transport families. 

The first event was a huge success.  It was well attended by families, court personnel, attorneys, social workers, community service providers, and children.  There was picnic food, games, face-painting and fun for all attendees. 

In 2008, Polk County held their second reunification celebration picnic.  This event was held in a park on a bus route so that private transportation was not an issue.  Additional partners joined in the planning, including Visiting Nurse Services, Moms off Meth, Community Partnerships for Protection of Children, and the Zero to Three Project.  The second picnic repeated the success of the first picnic  – more people attended and families were treated to lunch, a live band and fun activities for the kids.  With a bouncy house, snow cones, squirt guns and other games it was hard not to have fun.  The parents assumed a much more active role in planning the 2008 event and felt much well-deserved pride when they saw its success.

A reunification picnic celebration was held in 2009.  The number of attendees continues to grow and the celebration usually includes families, children, social workers, judges, service providers, members of the press and legislators.  This year, Polk County will be holding its fourth reunification celebration picnic on June 19th.  The planners are happy that their picnic has inspired so many and will now be a part of the National Reunification Day celebration. 

For more information about the Polk County reunification celebration, please contact Judge Connie Cohen