ASFA and corresponding state legislation have placed a significant emphasis on expediting permanency for children in foster care placement. This emphasis has prompted discussions about the role of reunification in the permanency continuum across states. Reunification can be difficult to achieve within a limited timeline. With this in mind, we discussed with administrators if there had been changes in the definition or traditional concept of reunification - to return a child to the birth parents or to the original custodian from whom the child was taken. In particular, has there been a change in the role of birth parents (custodial and non-custodial) and kin in reunification. States were asked if their definitions of reunification had been expanded beyond the traditional definition to a broader definition that included extended relatives. In other words, have states broadened their concept of reunification to include kin?
Most states maintained the traditional definition of reunification - to return the child to his or her birthparents or household of origin.5 However, five states reported that placement of a child with either a birth parent or a family relative was considered "reunification," or what some called "family reunification" in the state. A strong common point among these states was a large increase in placing children with relatives, particularly over the past few years, and their success in creating permanent living arrangements with relatives. An administrator from one of the five states pointed out that often the children have closer relationships with relatives than with their birth parents, based on the family situation. This inclusion of relatives as "reunification" seems to indicate the importance placed on maintaining the child within his/her extended family structure and the success of these permanent arrangements.
5. Three state administrators did not provide a definition during discussions.