Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System. 3. Programmatic Initiatives


While these alternative permanency options are receiving much attention, reunifying foster care children with their families is still the initial goal of almost every case coming into the system. Routinely, caseworkers follow basic elements of standard reunification practice including:

  1. Meet with birth parents to establish a service plan that outlines the steps they need to take for the child to return home;
  2. Provide or refer parents to services to meet goals of the service plan;
  3. Supervise visitation between parents and children;
  4. Monitor and evaluate parents' progress in remedying the problems that brought the child into care; and
  5. Based on parents' progress, make recommendations to the court to either return the child home or pursue an alternate permanency option.

In the majority of cases, these steps are still effective in returning the majority of children to their parents in a short time frame. Yet, these techniques fail other children who can languish in the system.

Some agencies have implemented intensive reunification programs within their foster care units. These programs follow these same steps but give the workers smaller caseloads and flexible funding to provide additional services to the birth family to return children home more quickly. In addition to these "regular" reunification procedures, many states and counties have adopted special reunification efforts to facilitate reunification. Balancing reunification and expedited permanency has led to the development of a number of new initiatives. These initiatives can be categorized into three broad categories: 1) tools to expedite reunification, 2) specialized reunification programs, and 3) system reform efforts.