SARASOTA/BRADENTON, FL (June 28, 2023) – Family reunification – the day when children who have been removed from their homes for various reasons are safely reunited with their families – is the primary goal of those working in the child welfare realm. Reunification offers an opportunity to celebrate parents who successfully complete their reunification plans as well as the case workers, courts, and all who help children return home safely.
National Reunification Month, which is observed annually in June, recognizes the people and ongoing efforts around the country that help families reunite. In Florida’s Circuit 12 (Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties), Safe Children Coalition works to provide resources, coordinate complicated legal processes, and serve as an advocate for families in crisis. And its efforts to reunify families are frequently successful: of the children removed in Florida’s Circuit 12 last year, 94% were returned with their families or, in cases when that is not possible, placed in another safe, stable permanent home.
Foster parents play a critical role in family reunification. By cultivating relationships with birth parents, they help to support family time and informal contacts between parents and their children that can increase the likelihood of reunification. By keeping the focus on the child and doing what is in their best interest, they help to reduce trauma and support positive outcomes for affected families.
To achieve reunification, there are numerous people involved. These include the case manager and other team members, the foster caregiver(s), the guardian ad litem program (if they are appointed), and children’s legal services. Once a child has been removed, 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 and then ascertain whether the parent(s) can move from supervised to unsupervised visitation. A judge has the final say if reunification can take place.
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.
Parents are given a year to work their case plan but each case is based on when it is deemed 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.
Unfortunately, there is a severe shortage of caring individuals and families to open their homes and hearts to children experiencing the disruption and trauma of being removed from their home in our region. At any given time, there are more than 1,000 children in Circuit 12 who are not able to safely remain in their homes due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. An increase in the number of available licensed foster care homes could better meet the need of children who need safe, loving homes.
“Children who are removed from their homes suffer so much trauma: the conditions they endured that led to removal, being taken away from loved ones, and being out of the home for potentially long periods of time can detrimentally effect childhood experiences,” said Brena Slater, president and CEO of Safe Children Coalition. “We believe all children deserve to be in a safe, stable and nurturing home; foster families are crucial in providing that while the reunification effort is taking place.”
The next information session for those interested in fostering children in Circuit 12 will take place on July 18. For more information, visit sccfl.org/foster; to inquire about becoming a foster parent, contact foster parent recruitment specialist Jeremy Gorzynski at 941-404-0079 or firstname.lastname@example.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.