The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.
Spring 2016 is a special time for families and the professionals who support them. During the month of May, we recognized National Foster Care Month with the theme “Honoring, Uniting, and Celebrating Families.” June is National Reunification Month. While we hope every day is one in which the child welfare system shows how it values families and their strengths, shining a national spotlight on parents for these two months reminds us where our priorities should be all year long.
According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, reunification is, by far, the permanency option achieved by the most children in the child welfare system. Research has shown that children who are raised by their families have the best long-term outcomes; therefore, we have a true motivation to return children home as quickly as it is safe to do so. For many families, this is not an easy process. However, when a child is returned home, whether in May or June or any time of the year, it is cause for celebration.
National Reunification Month began in 2010 as a single day—June 19 (during Father’s Day weekend). It started as a collaboration among a number of national organizations, including the ABA Center on Children and the Law, Casey Family Programs, National Association of Counsel for Children, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the National Center of State Courts, the Foster Care Coalition, Rise magazine, and Judge Connie Cohen from Iowa. These groups joined together to let States know that reunification is important and worthy of celebration. In 2012, the initiative’s leaders decided to focus on June as Reunification Month.
Since 2010 the following guiding principles have remained central:
- Reunification with family is the preferred outcome for children who must be removed from their homes and placed in foster care.
- For most children in foster care, reunification with their family is their best option for a permanent and loving home.
- Every year, thousands of children are successfully reunified with their families.
- All children need the care, love, security, and stability of family unity—including parents, siblings, grandparents, and other extended family members—to provide a solid foundation for personal growth, development, and maturity.
- Reunification takes work, commitment, and investment of time and resources by parents, family members, social workers, foster parents, service providers, attorneys, courts, and the community.
One special aspect of the month was the 2012 addition of honoring Reunification Heroes from around the country. These heroes are parents, lawyers, and case workers who have gone above and beyond in the reunification process. They were nominated by peers, interviewed by ABA staff, and highlighted on the Reunification Month website as well as on the ABA’s Parent Attorney listserv. In 2015, we had a record 11 heroes honored. Nominations are open for 2016 heroes, and the ABA hopes to top last year by honoring many more Reunification Heroes.
Another important part of Reunification Month is the state and local events that will happen in June. At least 25 states have conducted at least one event over the last few years, and most of these have held multiple events. The celebrations ranged from picnics honoring families, to rallies on the steps of State capitols, to substantive forums. For example, each year New Jersey picks an important topic like housing and visitation, creates a video about the topic, and holds a forum for stakeholders during June.
Similarly, the Family Defense Center in Chicago has hosted a celebration for the past 5 years in which parents who were involved in the child welfare system share their stories and discuss ways to improve the experience for families. To see a description of past events and to register your celebration, see the Reunification Month website.
Reunification Month, at its core, is about ensuring a focus on keeping children with their families. While we highlight this initiative during June, children and families rely on us all to focus on reunification all year round.
Mimi Laver, JD, is director of legal education at the ABA Center on Children and the Law.