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Reunification from Out-of-Home Care: A Research Overview of Good Practice in Returning Children Home from Care

Author: Elaine Farmer

Whilst there has been considerable attention in research and practice to entry to care, foster care and adoption, research in the UK on reunification has been limited, and until recently, sustained focus on reunification practice was rare. Yet legislation in England from the Children Act 1989 onwards (like that in many other countries) emphasises that the first permanence option for children in care is return to a parent. This lack of attention is paradoxical since return to parents from public care is not only the most likely permanence option for children (Thoburn et al. 2012)1, it is also much riskier for children than remaining in care (Wade et al. 2011). In addition, how rapidly and how robustly decisions about reunification are made has a profound impact on how soon and how successfully children are placed in long-term foster, kinship or adoptive placements when a safe return home is not possible (Thomas 2013).

This literature review was undertaken by the University of Bristol in order to inform a project commissioned by the Department for Education in England. The objective of this joint University of Bristol and NSPCC project was to create, in partnership with local authorities, a researchinformed Practice Framework for Reunification, to implement it and to evaluate how likely it was to improve reunification practice.