Reunification is a word used a lot at Maggie’s Place. But what is it, and why do we work to make it happen?
Reunification is the process of getting a family safely back together after children have been placed in the foster care system. Foster care refers to situations where the State has custody of the children, whether they are in the care of relatives, a foster home or residential facility. The purpose of foster care is to give families support through difficult times and teach parents and families how to be stronger than they were before. It aligns closely with Maggie’s Place values. According to the US Department of Health, about three in five children in foster care return home to their parents or other family members.
What about the moms at Maggie’s Place? Some have found themselves with older children in foster care. Maggie’s Place works together with our mothers, their new infants, and their extended families to set goals toward reunification. Lorraine is an example. She recently recounted her story on the podcast. Lorraine had lost her older children. They were taken when her drug habit got the better of her and her life. She came to Maggie’s Place pregnant and alone. When her baby was born, she left the hospital without him.
“When I was pregnant I stayed at Maggie’s Place. They took me to the hospital. And then I came home alone.”
The court gave her the “way” to regain custody and Lorraine never looked back. She completed every step and more. When they said attend a class, she attended a series.
“I was determined to get my babies back. When I got custody again, my older one didn’t understand. He thought he had another mom. That was my fault. I will not let these babies down.” Family Coach Emily Fankhauser’s eyes fill with tears. She counseled Lorraine through the process. “Emily stayed by my side the whole time. She cried with me. I wasn’t walking alone,” says Lorraine.
Maggie’s Place mothers work through a case plan. Emily is our lead coach and The Mary House Supervisor, Candice Castro, are integral in helping our mothers through this difficult time. Most often, our mothers moving through reunification are housed at The Mary House, a transitional apartment on the grounds of The Magdalene House property.
“Aside from the three mandatory classes the moms have already taken in the homes (Sleep Safety, Infant Safety and Carseat Safety), the families are also required to take Triple P Parenting, Family Nutrition and participate in programming weekly at The Family Success Center,” explains Castro.
The Mary House mothers receive family coaching weekly to set and achieve goals surrounding reunification: employment, education, budgeting, healthcare and parenting. They are also connected to resources for the entire family.
“I work with the family and their team of services to complete reunification goals. When all services through DCS have been closed out due to a successful reunification, then I continue my services with for one year to ensure the stability of the family,” she adds.
Emily tells us that when a mom leaves The Mary House, after about a year of living there, she connects with that mom within a 72-hour window. She has conversations, discusses options and programs. Touchstone, a Maggie’s Place partner, provides eight weeks of therapy and Triple P Parenting classes are approved through the State for current and alumnae moms.
The State requires a reunification plan that includes support and services. These can include: counseling for parents and family, drug or alcohol treatment, help with housing, transportation, food and necessities, help building job skills and finding employment, anger management and parenting classes. It sounds like any given day at Maggie’s Place Family Success Center. The overarching goal is to create a stronger family for both children and their parent(s).
Getting closer to reunification, mothers begin actively preparing for their children to return home. Some of the things they do in preparation include having a better understanding of behavioral, emotional and medical needs, greater confidence in their parenting ability and finding resources to help keep the family strong.
“Our goal is supporting families,” says CEO Laura Magruder. “If we take care of pregnant and parenting women, we have to help them rebuild and nurture their families to create a successful future.”