​​​​​Reunification Therapy Services

Reunification therapy services are court-ordered services that are intended to assist in the reparation of the parent-child relationship. These services are often necessary following a parental absence, following failure to honor the child's agreed-upon parenting time schedule, or following a child's resistance to spending time with the reunifying parent. These services are offered in situations of intended reunification, and fall primarily into three different types: 

  1. Introduction, where the child has no prior knowledge of the reunifying parent
  2. Re-involvement, when there has been a disruption in the child-parent relationship 
  3. Reintroduction, when the child cannot remember the reunifying parent


Because this is a complicated process that affects the entire family, it is not unusual to include both parents, step-parents, siblings, and relevant others in the process.


Following the Reconnection Model (Freeman et al., 2004), and based on the data of relevant research, I attempt to assess, prepare, and facilitate those involved in the process by:


  • Conducting a thorough assessment of the child and parents by obtaining a detailed history of the child, the child-parent relationships, the nature and reasons for the parental absence, and the parent's perspectives on the reunificatition, as well as the child's perspective on the reunification. A complete safety and risk assessment is completed during this and future steps, with careful attention to their needs and their concerns regarding both parent's expectations of them. Sometimes an estimate of time for this child-centered process may be given.  
  • Reunification "tasks" are undertaken with regards to the custodial parent, the reunifying parent, and the child. These tasks are aimed at determining their ability to manage the process, and may include referrals for individual therapeutic support. The parental tasks may appear to be clouded with factors such as alienation; these factors are taken into account and addressed at this and future stages. Tasks with the children may include determining their strengths and limitations, perceptions regarding the reunification, available coping strategies, and other concerns. As with each stage, it must be determined to be in the child's best interests to continue.
  • Next, individual preparation work begins with the custodial parent, reunifying parent, and child.  This involves meeting with each (individually) to make sure they are psychologically prepared for this phase. Both parents are encouraged to support the child and process, and the child is encouraged to explore their perceptions of the reunifying parent and any possible anxieties about how their world will change. Prior to a face-to-face meeting, communication in the form of letters, cards, and telephone calls may be exchanged within the therapeutic environment.
  • When the child is psychologically ready, the first face-to-face meeting is scheduled. Prior to the first meeting, the therapist will develop a list of guidelines for the meeting. Winston the support dog may be present if it is deemed helpful in creating feelings of safety for the child.
  • If the meetings continue to be in the child's best interests, than a decision is made in regards to the supervision of the visits, the length of the visits, and the meeting sights of future visits. As the therapist disengages from the process, the parenting time plan should be revisited.  

 

Merrill Graham, LMSW, RPT, has been providing Reunification Support Services

to high-conflict families for over 15 years.