Revisiting Reunification

When the National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) was founded 25 years ago, reunification research was in its infancy. Some of the earliest research on reunification involved Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS). IFPS was found to be very successful with reunifying families. Today far fewer families receive reunification services through IFPS; generally under 20% of IFPS services are provided to reunifying families as compared to intact families.

In terms of priority, emphasis, research, and funding, reunification has stalled at the state level. The percentage of families in the child welfare system that reunify has been stuck at 50% for at least the past decade. Only a few states devote funding to programs assisting families to reunify. Research on reunification has also lagged.

One doctoral research study in 2012 conducted a meta-analysis of reunification. The study identified the factors related to reunification failure/success:
• Infants and adolescents are less likely to reunify
• Children with behavior, emotional, cognitive problems, or physical disabilities are less likely to reunify
• After more than one year in care the likelihood of reunification decreases
• The more parental contact and visits, the more likely reunification will occur

To view the meta-analysis study of reunification visit

Most of the current research and funding for reunification comes from federal laws, policies, and grants. This is in response to the explosion of misuse of prescription drugs and heroin. Half of the babies with exposure to opioids during the mother’s pregnancy are born with withdrawal symptoms. Babies also make up the largest group of the increasing number of children placed in out-of-home care due to parental substance abuse.

Two federally-funded programs are addressing the issue of how to reunify families when parental substance abuse is a factor in removal of children. The Regional Partnership Grant Program and the Children Affected by Methamphetamine Program use a set of common ingredients and strategies including:
• A system of identifying families in need of treatment
• Timely access to treatment
• Recovery support services
• Comprehensive family services
• Increased judicial oversight
• Cross-systems response
• Collaborative structures

The Regional Partnership Program has served over 15,000 families with these outcomes:
• 83% of children discharged from foster care were reunified
• 73% of infants were reunified within 12 months, an astonishing figure considering that infants as a group are less likely to reunify

The Meth Program has provided funding for drug courts which are also proving to be very effective:
• 68% of children were reunified in less than 12 months
• Less than 6% of children reentered foster care within 12 months after being returned home (about a third the national average for reentry with traditional services)

For more information on these programs and opiate misuse visit

This post began with research on IFPS reunification and will end with a research study on IFPS reunification published by NFPN in 2014. The study found that IFPS reunification was effective with families involved in substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental health problems. Step-down services and involvement of biological fathers improved the durability of reunifications. Finally, exit instruments designed for both the worker and parents showed very strong alignment in perceptions.

For more information on exit instruments for workers/parents visit (free with purchase of NCFAS-G+R assessment tool)

Posted by
Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

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