In our society, there can be misconceptions about why children end up in foster care, and therefore a hesitancy towards reunification. While there are certainly cases of abuse and severe neglect, there is usually a more complex reason a child enters the foster care system. In fact, the majority of cases do not involve a birth parent intentionally causing harm to their child; it is very common for birth parents to struggle with addiction, domestic violence, imprisonment, and financial hardship. For one reason or another, they are simply unable to care for their child.
Understanding the unique hardships and personal challenges many birth parents face allows us to widen the scope of our perspective on foster care and adoption. When we choose to support birth parents in their endeavor to improve themselves and their situation, we are not only showing grace to them, but also their child. While it may be a path full of obstacles and unforeseen challenges, providing a foster youth with the opportunity to stay with or reunite with their birth family is well worth it.
In many scenarios, family preservation efforts can be made before a child is even removed from a home. Family preservation services provide support to a family in crisis, empowering them to change their trajectory. These types of services include (but are not limited to):
- Domestic violence prevention
- Substance abuse treatment
- Mental health treatment
- Financial assistance
As long as children can remain safe and protected within their own homes, family preservation is an ideal approach to keep families intact. An abundance of research has shown that separating children from their families is traumatic for them (even as infants) and has long-lasting effects on their mental, emotional, and physical health. Eliminating the step of removing a child from a home can help them to avoid unnecessary trauma.
There are some instances in which it simply isn’t possible for a child to remain safe and adequately cared for if they stay with their birth family; that’s when foster care can be a very helpful intervention. Foster care is intended to provide a temporary safe place for children who have nowhere else to go. During a child’s stay in foster care, their birth parent has an opportunity to improve themselves and their situation. As long as the birth parent is able to make positive changes for their child, there is hope for reunification.
In cases where neither family preservation or reunification is possible, we grieve the loss of the birth family. This important step should not be overlooked during the foster care and adoption process. Grieving honors the birth family, acknowledges the child’s heritage, and allows space for adjustment. After all efforts to preserve and reunify have been exhausted, we then turn to adoption. Although it may not be the first choice, adoption provides permanency in a child’s life and gives them the stability they need to heal, grow, and thrive.
At Koinonia, we know that reunification is usually the best option for the child and we always prepare our foster-to-adopt parents for this possibility. Although reunification can be heart-breaking for foster parents, we are committed to keeping the child’s best interest a priority. Embedded deep within every human is a longing to know their roots and cultural heritage; we strive to meet this universal need by always supporting family preservation and reunification.
JASMYNE NEWMAN, CONTRIBUTOR
Jasmyne is a Social Media Coordinator at Koinonia’s Corporate Office in Loomis, California. She is passionate about pursuing health in all areas of life: physically, mentally, and spiritually. Her favorite thing about working for Koinonia is the opportunity to use her writing skills and support such a worthwhile mission.