Reunification is at the centre of meaningful child welfare practice. Whilst child protection systems are concerned with removal of children from their families in the interests of safety, the capacity of child welfare systems to return children safely to their families of origin is also considered to be of central importance. When placement in care is needed the goal is to reduce the length of separation between parent and child, and to maximise the prospects of reunification of children with their parents or kin whenever it is safe to do so.
However the extended periods of time in care can lead to loss of family connections and a sense of identity, and difficulties in transitioning out of care. For those experiencing multiple placements there is evidence of later difficulties in forming attachments with adults and of developing long term emotional and behavioural problems. We had the same challenges when we did reunification for our scholars too.
Reunification is a process. It took us time to manage it for some of our scholars. Sometimes they had to spend some time with the foster/alternative care and some time with the family during school break. We provide the scholar with counseling together with the family. We also engage the office of social welfare in the area where the child is from. Major issues that lead us to look for alternative care for our scholars is child-headed family, a guardian who are always drunk could not provide for the family, vulnerability at household level, and when we found students in alternative care after death of the mother during delivery.
Currently TFFT managed to reunite six scholars with their families. Some reunification processes can be challenging for the scholar to cope with in a short time. You find scholars going back to their foster family. In this transition period we share with them on importance of them being connected to their blood relatives.
Before the reunification process we assess areas that led us to think that the child needed foster care and plan for intervention while the child is in school since most of our scholars are in boarding school. One of the biggest challenges we had is when scholars goes back home during break. Some families could not afford three meals per day and the scholar is already used to three meals per day at school. Therefore we started by providing them with food while at home during breaks. But as scholars increased in numbers we found that it would be very difficult to provide food for every scholar during holiday break, therefore we built the livelihood strengthening program for scholars’ parents and guardians.
This program helps with families’ needs through an income generating project. TFFT provides a parent or guardian with seed money to start a project. Through the livelihood program, we manage to support scholars in their homes, leading to fewer scholars need to be sent to foster care because the family cannot provide basic needs for them.
For a smooth reunification process we always provide training for the guardians and foster parents on positive parenting. This helps parents who just reunified with kids that were not in their care previously to learn their behavior. We work together whenever they had challenges in parenting. In the training, together with other issues, we cover child rights, child protection, stages of child development, and how children behave in different stages.