SARASOTA/BRADENTON, FL (June 21, 2022) – Single mother “Brittany” says, “The only thing I’m great at is being a mom.” But after eight years sober, Brittany’s world came crashing down: her relapse into heroin use resulted in her daughter being taken away in April of 2021. The duo – who had been joined at the hip since her daughter’s birth five years before – was separated.
Brittany partnered with Safe Children Coalition, following a plan that included drug evaluations and classes (“I knew how to BE sober, just not how to GET sober,” Brittany says), parenting classes, work with a counselor and private therapy that Brittany engaged on her own. After just eight months, Brittany and her daughter were reunified and now Brittany says things are better than ever before.
“All I’ve ever heard is that having a child removed is the scariest time of someone’s life but it was nothing like that for me,” Brittany says. “I received the best possible support. The process happened exactly the way it was supposed to. They told me what I needed to do and I did it. And it saved my life.”
In the child welfare realm, “family reunification” refers to the process of returning children, who have been removed from their homes and placed into the state care system, to their birth parent or parents. Not only is reunification the primary goal for child welfare agencies, it is also the most common outcome. Of the children removed in Sarasota, Manatee or DeSoto counties, 47% are reunified with their families.
In June, child welfare agencies and professionals celebrate National Reunification Month, which recognizes the people and efforts that help families reunify and then stay together. Through intensive case management, various services, programs and partnerships, Safe Children Coalition (SCC) has seen approximately 90% of children who were reunified with their families over the past couple of years remain in their homes.
A child may be removed from the home due to drug and/or alcohol abuse by a parent or caretaker (which is by far the most common reason), inadequate supervision or neglect, emotional or physical abuse suffered by the child, or domestic violence in the home. Once removed, SCC will offer a case plan which addresses the reason(s) for removal. The parent or parents are referred to services that will help to manage safety risks/threats of danger; providers and case managers will look for behavioral changes (such as clean drug screens, no incidents of domestic violence, use of therapy or medications to address mental health concerns) and then ascertain whether the parent(s) can move from supervised to unsupervised visitation. Overnights may also be added in before reunification occurs.
Parents may be referred to outside providers, such as: BRIC (Building Resilience in Children) Parenting, Centerstone (for substance abuse, mental health, medication management, anger management, parenting, and sexual abuse for the non-offending parent), First Step (for substance abuse and mental health), HOPE Victim Services (for domestic violence), The Florida Center (for parenting classes and therapies), Parenting Matters, and a number of private mental health practitioners.
SCC has its permanency team (in partnership with Lutheran Services Florida in Manatee County) and its own reunification team that can go into homes to provide additional support. They help perform assessments to address the child’s safety, in coordination with case management, and connect parents with resources in areas where they may be struggling.
“All decisions that are made are based on the child’s best interests. If safety threats are manageable with in-home services, then we move the child back home,” said SCC’s learning and professional development specialist Sarah Hutchings. “There is the trauma of what the child(ren) endured that led to removal, the trauma of being removed and being out of the home for long periods of time; it’s usually best to return the child(ren) as quickly as possible when it’s safe to do so!”
In order to achieve reunification, there are numerous people involved. These include the case manager, case manager’s supervisor, assistant program director, operations manager, the caregiver, the guardian ad litem program (if they are appointed), and children’s legal services; a judge has the final say if reunification can take place.
Parents are given a year to work their case plan but each case is based on when it is considered safe for a child to return safely home. Once a family is reunified, SCC stays involved for a minimum of six months for a process called post-placement supervision. If there are no concerns after the six-month process is completed, then the judge can be asked for case closure.
For more information about Safe Children Coalition, visit sccfl.org.
About Safe Children Coalition, Inc.
Safe Children Coalition, Inc. (SCC) serves as the lead agency for community-based care for Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties. SCC is a collaboration between local community agencies who provide services to children and families in need. SCC is committed to protecting children, strengthening families, and building community. The core functions provided by SCC include child welfare case management, foster care, adoption, independent living, prevention, diversion, quality management, and support services. Visit sccfl.org or call 941-371-4799.