In spite of the high risks when returning children to their parents, until recently, research to inform reunification practice in the UK has been sparse. This article reports on a study of 180 children returned to their parent/s in six local authorities, who were followed up for two years. The article examines what led to reunification, how well children and parent/s were prepared and supported, children's progress and outcomes and what helped returns to succeed. Pressures affected most returns, but preparation, appropriate services, purposeful social work practice and foster carer assistance with reunion contributed to return stability. However, many children returned to parents whose problems had not been resolved and continuing parental alcohol and/or drugs misuse was associated with maltreatment after return. Almost half the children were maltreated and nearly half the returns broke down. Return outcomes varied widely by local authority, especially for older accommodated children, who sometimes returned repeatedly to unsatisfactory home conditions. The findings suggest the importance of setting conditions using written agreements, which agree clear goals for change with parents, with swift action being taken when children's quality of life at home becomes unsatisfactory. The current lack of attention to reunification practice leaves children at risk of poor outcomes.
- Reunification practice, policy and outcomes
- Maltreatment after reunification
- Looked after children