Case Study IV: Reunification
USA Group 6 Response

1. What preparation for the family and for the children will be necessary for this reunification to take place successfully?

An interview of the aunt needs to take place to determine how willing she is to be reunified first with Emile and Jean-Claude, then with Pascal, and to care for them. If the aunt states that she is willing to take them in, the assessment does not stop there. Further investigation, including making home visits, should be completed to ensure that her true motivations are genuine, and not for financial or material gains. Though she may be more than willing to care for the boys, she may have limited means to do so since she already is caring for their sisters. Being very sick, her health is also a concern. Therefore, assessing what support system she has, both within her home and in the community, would be helpful in determining how appropriate and successful this reunion will be. Home visits will also be helpful to further evaluate any reports of child maltreatment or drug or alcohol use in the home. Considering what the children’s wishes are regarding reunification with the aunt is vital in determining whether placement with her is appropriate and in their best interests, though this may be difficult to assess for Pascal due to his young age. Finally, if the children formed relationships with any temporary caregivers while being separated from their family, careful attention needs to be given to ensure that reunification with their aunt goes smoothly and is not more traumatic by having to sever ties with these caregivers.

2. What key elements should be included in the actual re-unification of the family with the children?

Arrangements for how the reunification will take place, including the location and time, should be considered ahead of time. Assistance such as food, clothing, healthcare, schooling, and a source of income should be provided to the aunt to ensure that she can adequately support the children. The children may need counseling or further support in transitioning from the difficult time of being separated to adjusting to their new family unit.

Some cultures may have pre-existing rituals for reintegrating people into the community (for example, a community where individuals commonly migrate to find work and return during holidays may have special procedures for welcoming home family members). If this is the case for Jean-Claude’s community, the re-unification process may want to build on/facilitate these traditions to ensure that the children are reintegrated into society in a cultural appropriate way.

3. What sort of follow-up might be required for the children and for the family?

Ideally, multiple follow-ups should occur so as to ensure the continued wellbeing of the children and new household. As an example, follow up can occur at the 1-week, 2-month, and 3-month mark after reunification.

Follow-up would include home visits and supports for the immediate household such as a cash stipend for immediate needs, and other material supports (clothes, school supplies, household supplies, etc.). In this case, making sure the Aunt is getting treatment for her health problems would also be included. Also supporting the family’s already established long-term economic endeavors (small business, farming, etc.), or helping them establish these things, would assist in long-term security. These home visits should also include assessments (direct observation + individual interviews with caretaker and children) that evaluate the present condition of the household (economic status, family dynamics and roles, strengths and weaknesses), to formulate how further family supports can be put into place.

If possible, it would be beneficial if follow-up included an assessment of the community setting and investment in the community itself. This would help reduce jealousy on the part of families not receiving the same incentives as re-united families. Investments may include helping to strengthen pre-existing community structures like schools, health clinics, water/electricity supplies, etc.

We assume that tracing for the missing parents would continue after the children’s reunification with their aunt. The follow-up should include updates about the tracing efforts. Steps should be taken at the very beginning of the reunification process, during the preparation phase, to encourage the aunt/children to anticipate what decisions the aunt/children will make with regards to transferring caretakers if/when the parents are eventually found. This conversation is particularly important in this situation as Emile and Pascal are at crucial developmental stages in their lives and may be especially susceptible to psychosocial distress due to changes in their caretaking environment.