Why Is Reunification the Goal?


min read

There are moments that stay with you as a foster parent. One such moment etched into my memory and upon my heart is meeting the mother of a beautiful baby boy, just four weeks old, for the very first time. This was not a meeting either of us looked forward to. We were in the Department of Family Services office and this little boy was being removed from his mother’s care to be placed with my family while she worked on her treatment plan.  

I shook her hand as the caseworker introduced us and then asked for her permission to give her a hug. Tears were streaming down her face, and there was so much visible pain. I embraced her, knowing it wouldn’t take away the pain she was experiencing but praying it would help her feel less alone. After our hug she kissed her little boy on the top of his head, her tears wetting his hair, and gently placed him into my arms and walked out of the office. I stood there broken for this precious baby and his mother. As I protectively held that child, I knew God’s heart grieved for his family. He designed families to be healthy and whole together.

The goal of foster care is reunification, and it absolutely should be. If we believe God’s design is for families to be together, shouldn't we make every effort to help in reunification? You might be shaking your head, closing your heart and shouting a resounding "No!" How do we love and cheer for a parent who has caused pain, hurt and trauma for their child? My answer is God's grace. He has extended His grace to each of us over and over again. We once were lost, but now we're found. We have to intentionally choose love and forgiveness, and often it is one of the hardest choices we make. Choosing love and forgiveness makes cheering for reunification possible.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

Reunification allows the child to be raised by his parent(s), which when safe is the best possible outcome. Growing up surrounded by his birth family minimizes the child’s questions about his identity and provides a more solid sense of self. Reunification also prevents further grief and trauma caused by complete separation from his first family.  

If reunification is the goal of foster care, then how do we learn to release the children to whom we’ve become so attached? What does this look like practically? How do we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus when it feels like the reality of reunification sucks us into a pool of worry and fear - when it seems that our hearts might literally break?

By staying deeply rooted in Jesus, we can release our fears and worries about what reunification might bring for the child in our care or what it means for our own families.

Open God’s Word.

The Bible is a living letter to us from God. God ministers to and challenges us through the truth that is present on every page. There are moments where we must literally preach this truth to ourselves by searching and meditating on His Word.

Develop your prayer life.

God wants to hear from you. He wants you to share every feeling and thought. Yes, even the angry, confused and fearful feelings. He created our emotions, and He is not blind to them or intimidated by them. Prayer allows us to know God better as we learn to both talk and listen.

Worship through song.

The moments when we least feel like worshipping are exactly the moments when we need to pursue worship. Soaking in God’s presence and worshipping Him with our voices will bring a shift to our minds and attitudes. Regardless of the circumstance, God is always worthy of worship.

Remain in community.

When we walk through hard things, our first response might be to isolate. I encourage you pursue community with others who love Jesus and can walk beside you as you process your own grief.  

Forgive those involved.

We must model to the child in our care what forgiveness looks like. Forgiveness is a choice. Holding onto bitterness and anger will always hurt us the most.  

If we are going to love the child well, then we need to also love their birth family and those involved in the case. “We love each other because He loved us first.” 1 John 4:19

There is freedom when we recognize that our brokenness meets their brokenness. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:23  

Yet there is hope in Jesus. “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.” Matthew 6:14

We experience freedom when we stop placing judgement and discover empathy, when we give the same love to others as we have received from Jesus.

Pray for the child’s birth parents.

Pray for parents to achieve their parenting plan, and encounter King Jesus who can help them make lasting changes. As we pray for birth parents, I believe that God changes our hearts too and gives us greater love for them. Philippians 2:4 commands us to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourself, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to interests of others.” When we pray for the child’s parents, we surrender our own desires and consider the interests of both the child and his parents.  

Speak positively about parents and reunification.

Proverbs 18:21a clearly states that “the tongue has the power of life and death." We want to bring life to the child in our care and to his parents. Children are so perceptive, and how we speak about their birth family or reunification itself will impact their own feelings towards it. The weight of our feelings should not be placed upon the child as it is far too heavy and not his burden to bear. When asked hard questions, we can provide honest, age-appropriate answers while still expressing love toward his parents and birth family.

Trust that God has a plan for the child.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plan to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Nothing about reunification is easy. Our goal as foster parents is to provide a child with safety, consistency and love while their family is in distress. As we pray for the grace to care for our children well, we can also ask God to help us release them well, trusting in His sovereignty and sufficiency.

That precious little boy, who was placed in my arms by his mama, thrived in our care. While I could have convinced myself that I was somehow the superior parent, I encouraged his mom to get better and pursue the help and services she needed to parent him. I also included her in all his first milestones through a journal and photo album we passed back and forth at his visits with her. This helped my heart remain in the right place and allowed her to still be a part of his life as his mother.  

Months later, reunification did in fact happen. While my heart struggled with many emotions, I knew this was right—certainly not easy, but right. This time it was me kissing the top of his head, my tears making his hair wet as I gently placed him back into his mother’s arms. By God’s grace, I was filled with peace and assurance that this is what God had called my family to do. This little boy, whom I loved, was exactly where he needed to be. Now it was my job to trust that God is sovereign and would protect him. It was my responsibility to pray for him and his mama. It was my job to be available and encourage her if she reached out with questions.  

Reunification is one of the hardest and most beautiful experiences of my life, and I pray that when you encounter it, you can say the same no matter the circumstance. When we care for, love and reunify a child with his family, I believe God is whispering, “Well done my child. Well done.”

Need more parenting tips?

Check out our parenting resources where you’ll find topics like trauma, reunification, tips for new parents and sibling dynamics.

Another great read