Timely Permanency through Reunification: Breakthrough Series Collaborative

Importance of family
Being in a family positively impacts a child’s development. Children should be raised in a family and most families can care for their children, though some need some additional support. People are not isolated beings; they are part of familial and social networks.

When those networks and connections are disrupted – as when children are taken away from their families – the impact is negative and it is cumulative on the child, the family and the community.

Rates of reunification
Each year more than 287,000 children who were in foster care for some period of time leave care. Of these, more than half are reunified with their parents, after an average of six months in care.

However, reunification does not occur uniformly across the nation, with differences appearing from state to state, across races, and at different ages. For example:

  • Reunification rates by state range from a high of 76 percent to a low of 30 percent;
  • Children under the age of one are reunified with their parents only 35 percent of the time;
  • Nationally, 68 percent of Asian children are reunified, as are 54 percent of whites, 58 percent of Hispanics, and 54 percent of American Indians; but for Black children the rate is only 48 percent. This statistic is amplified by the fact that African Americans and American Indians are twice as likely to be investigated and substantiated for child maltreatment, and their children are two to three times more likely to be placed in foster care than those in the general child population. Children of color enter foster care at a higher rate, stay in care longer and leave foster care at a slower rate than white children.

What happens without reunification?
What happens to those children for whom reunification is not achieved in those first six months of placement? The longer a child is in out-of-home care, the less likely reunification will be achieved.

Longer stays in foster care increase the chance of multiple placements, which are associated with problems of attachment, poor school performance and behavioral difficulties. Those who stay in care the longest are at risk of becoming one of more than 20,000 young people who leave the foster care system each year with no achieved permanency outcome, at risk of homelessness, unemployment, pregnancy, and poor educational achievement.

Ironically, many of these youth return to their families of origin on their own after they “age out” of the system.

Increasing safe reunification
In response to negative outcomes such as these, Casey Family Programs is sponsoring a Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Timely Permanency Through Reunification. Twenty teams of public child welfare agencies/tribal social service agencies along with a court or tribal court partner will be brought together to share knowledge, challenges and successes over the course of two years.

What is a Breakthrough Series Collaborative?
The Breakthrough Series Collaborative is a methodology adapted from the health care field; it originated with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the Associates in Process Improvement in 1995.

In a yearlong process sponsored by Casey Family Programs, teams from around the country focus on an “intractable” issue in child welfare practice. The teams test multiple ideas, strategies, and tools on a very small scale in their pilot sites. They simultaneously share learnings with other teams via the Internet, phone conferences, and three two-day meetings.

The most successful field-tested and measurable strategies and tools are then rapidly introduced throughout the teams’ jurisdictions or systems.

The Breakthrough Series Full Report

The Breakthrough Series Collaborative (BSC) is one of several innovative methodologies being used to support Casey’s 2020 permanency and safe reduction strategies.

The BSC on Timely Permanency through Reunification was framed using empirical and best practice data – as well as federal legislation such as the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 – that support family reunification as the best outcome for children in care.

With this in mind, public and tribal child welfare agencies representing nine states partnered with their respective court systems and engaged birth parents with first-hand experience of the child welfare system, alumni of the foster care system, and community partners. Together they embarked on a two-year journey that resulted in:

  • 727 children being reunified with their families across the teams’ target sites.
  • Over 150 small practice changes being tested at the target sites.
  • Over 22 successful practices being spread beyond the teams’ target sites.
  • Every team experiencing significant increases in the strength and depth of cross-systems relationships.
  • A paradigm shift related to partnership between the public or tribal child welfare agency, the court system, birth parents, alumni, and community partners.

This report describes the Timely Permanency through Reunification Breakthrough Series Collaborative process, starting with an overview of the BSC methodology and the Change Package that guided the work of the teams. It also highlights the promising practices, outcomes and lessons learned that resulted from the teams’ application of the methodology.


Report cover
Full Report