Private Organization Accreditation

Heartland for Children is the not-for-profit agency responsible for the foster care system in Polk, Highlands, and Hardee Counties.


Harry Hunter, MSW, MBA, Ph.D.

Volunteer Roles: Peer Reviewer; Team Leader

Peer Reviewer for the month of January 2013, Dr. Hunter has been volunteering for COA since 2005, conducting five site reviews.
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Child and Family Services promote child and family well-being, protect children’s safety, stablilize and strengthen families, and ensure permanency.

PA-CFS 21: Family Reunification

Children and families receive the support and services they need to ease the transition to reunification, stabilize the home, and prevent reentry into out-of-home care.

Interpretation: While reunification preparation and support are essential to preventing reentry, it is also important to emphasize that the support and services provided throughout the time children are in out-of-home care should also be designed to support connections and increase the family’s capacity to care for its children. For example, parents should be helped to address both concrete and therapeutic needs, as addressed in PA-CFS 10, and constructive visitation/family time should help to both preserve family connections and provide an opportunity for parents to practice and improve their parenting skills, as described in PA-CFS 17. Similarly, ongoing contact and collaboration between parents and resource families can help to support parents’ involvement in their children’s care, as addressed in PA-CFS 10.09.

Note: COA recognizes that in instances where the court suddenly orders a child home without advance notice, the agency will not be able to fully implement all the practice standards in this section. However, the agency should still try to implement the standards to the extent possible. For example, while the agency may not be able to develop an individualized transition plan prior to reunification as per PA-CFS 21.02, it should collaborate with the family to develop the plan as soon as possible after reunion.

Research Note: Although achieving reunification is a primary goal of the child welfare system, literature notes that it should be conceptualized as a process rather than a one-time outcome or event. Reunification can be a high-risk time that presents a number of challenges, and many of the children who are reunited will subsequently re-enter out-of-home care. The issues that led to the involvement of the child welfare system may not have been entirely resolved while the child was in care, or families may not yet have developed the full capacities they need to manage the challenges of reunification or other stressors that may surface once the child has been returned to the home. Accordingly, literature emphasizes the importance of providing continued assistance and services to promote permanency for children reunited with their families.

Rating Indicators
Full Implementation, Outstanding Performance
A rating of (1) indicates that the agency's practices fully meet the standard and reflect a high level of capacity.  
  • All elements or requirements outlined in the standard are evident in practice, with rare or no exceptions; exceptions do not impact service quality or agency performance. 
Substantial Implementation, Good Performance
A rating of (2) indicates that an agency's infrastructure and practices are basically sound but there is room for improvement. 
  • The majority of the standards requirements have been met and the basic framework required by the standard has been implemented.  
  • Minor inconsistencies and not yet fully developed practices are noted; however, these do not significantly impact service quality or agency performance.  
Partial Implementation, Concerning Performance
A rating of (3) indicates that the agency's observed infrastructure and/or practices require significant improvement.  
  • The agency has not implemented the basic framework of the standard but instead has in place only part of this framework.   
  • Omissions or exceptions to the practices outlined in the standard occur regularly, or practices are implemented in a cursory or haphazard manner. 
  • Service quality or agency functioning may be compromised.   
  • Capacity is at a basic level.
Unsatisfactory Implementation or Performance
A rating of (4) indicates that implementation of the standard is minimal or there is no evidence of implementation at all.  
  • The agency’s observed service delivery infrastructure and practices are weak or non-existent; or show signs of neglect, stagnation, or deterioration.  
Please see Rating Guidance for additional rating examples. 

Table of Evidence

Self-Study Evidence On-Site Evidence On-Site Activities
    • A description of: 
      1. Services that prepare children, parents, and out-of-home care providers for reunification
      2. Assistance and monitoring provided upon and following reunification
    • Procedures for:
      1. Reunification planning
      2. Contact, support, and monitoring upon and following reunification
      3. Case management and service coordination
      4. Referral for and accessing services
    • Local community resource and referral list(s)
No On-Site Evidence
    • Interview:
      1. Agency leadership
      2. Relevant personnel
      3. Children and families served
      4. Resource parents
      5. Residential treatment providers
    • Review case records
    • Review resource parent records

  • PA-CFS 21.01

    In an effort to facilitate a smooth transition to family reunification:

    1. children and parents are involved in making decisions regarding reunification;
    2. children, parents, and resource families or residential treatment providers are provided with sufficient advance notice that children will return home;
    3. a graduated process for visitation/family time enables both children and parents to prepare for reunification; and
    4. collaborating service providers are involved in preparation for reunification and notified when reunification has occurred.

    Interpretation: As noted in PA-CFS 17.03, plans for visitation/family time will typically be modified in accordance with planning for reunification. While policies regarding the transition to reunification may vary, many agencies will utilize a graduated step-down process that includes home visits, extended home visits, and trial discharge.

    Note: The decision to reunify a family should be based on ongoing assessment and case review, as addressed in PA-CFS 9. See PA-CFS 9 for more information regarding ongoing assessment and case review, and PA-CFS 2 for more information regarding collaboration and coordination with other involved service providers.

  • PA-CFS 21.02

    The agency collaborates with families prior to reunification to develop individualized plans for promoting family stability after reunion, by addressing: 

    1. the issues, behaviors, and conditions that led to the involvement of the child welfare system; and
    2. any issues stemming from children’s separation from their families, including any assistance needed to address separation and rebuild the parent-child relationship.

    Interpretation: The plan for maintaining family stability after reunification will likely be an extension of the family’s service plan, and should be based on assessed strengths and needs. The preparatory work done with children, families, and resource families prior to the return home, as addressed in PA-CFS 21.03, 21.04, and 21.05, should also inform the development of the plan. Please note that while plans should be developed prior to reunification, they should also allow for flexibility based on changing needs and circumstances.

    Note: See PA-CFS 21.06 for more information regarding potentially relevant services and supports to be included in families’ plans.

  • PA-CFS 21.03

    Parents are prepared for the return of their children and the challenges of reunification through support and guidance that help them to:

    1. understand expectations and responsibilities related to their children’s return;
    2. develop strategies for providing appropriate care, managing children’s behavior, meeting any special needs children may present, and preventing reoccurrence of the safety concerns that led to the separation of the children;
    3. consider how everyday living and family relationships will be impacted by their children’s return;
    4. understand how children may react and behave as they adjust to the return home; and
    5. explore any anxiety, uncertainty, or ambivalence they may feel about responsibilities related to their children’s return.

    Interpretation: Issues related to reunification should ideally be discussed and planned for from the time children are first separated from their families.

  • PA-CFS 21.04

    Children receive age-appropriate support and guidance that helps them explore their feelings about reunification, and prepare for the return home.

    Interpretation: While issues related to reunification should ideally be discussed and planned for from the time children are first separated from their families, the amount and type of preparation provided will vary according to children’s ages, developmental levels, and circumstances, including length of time in out-of-home care. While support and guidance may be provided by child welfare workers, resource families and residential treatment providers will typically also play an important role in preparing a child for reunification. Topics to discuss may include, but are not limited to: the child’s experiences while in out-of-home care, including a review of the child’s life book; the reunification process; expectations for the return home; any protections in place to ensure the child’s safety; any fear or anxiety the child may be experiencing; and coping with any grief or loss the child may experience upon leaving a resource family. 

  • PA-CFS 21.05

    The agency collaborates with out-of-home care providers to:

    1. explain their role in supporting and facilitating reunification;
    2. help them explore and cope with any anxiety, grief, or other emotions they may feel as a result of the decision to reunify the family; and
    3. clarify whether there will be opportunities for contact with children following reunification.

    Interpretation: When children are leaving residential treatment settings elements (b) and (c) will likely be unnecessary, but the agency should collaborate with residential treatment providers to explain their role in supporting and facilitating reunification.

  • FP
    PA-CFS 21.06

    Upon reunification children and families are:

    1. helped to manage and negotiate any issues or challenges they may face;
    2. connected to any formal and informal services and supports they may need; and
    3. contacted and visited to monitor for safety.

    Interpretation: As noted in the Research Note to PA-CFS 21, reunification can be a high-risk time that presents a number of challenges. Families often have both concrete and clinical needs, and may need help addressing many of the same issues and challenges that led to the involvement of the child welfare system in order to prevent reentry into out-of-home care. In addition to the support and monitoring provided by caseworkers, needed services may include, but are not limited to: substance use treatment; mental health treatment; counseling; medical and dental care; educational advocacy and supports; specialized medical, mental health, or educational supports for children with special needs; child care; respite care; income support; housing assistance; transportation; homemaker assistance; vocational assistance; case management; mentoring; and support groups. Sources of informal and social support (e.g., extended family, neighbors, and other community members and institutions) may help to support the family over time, even after the case has been closed.

    Note: The need for a wide range of community services and supports also points to the importance of collaborating with other organizations and agencies to ensure that needed services are available, as addressed in PA-CFS 2 and PA-AM 6. 
    Note: As noted in PA-CFS 18.08, families should also be helped to maintain or obtain health insurance for children.  See PA-CFS 18.08 for more details regarding the health-related services and supports that children should be helped to access.
    Note: See PA-CFS 15 for more information regarding expectations around worker contact and monitoring following reunification.

    Research Note: Literature emphasizes the importance of providing post-reunification services, but also acknowledges the financial constraints that can make it difficult to do so. While states can utilize a mix of funding sources to support reunification efforts, federal funding specific to reunification is extremely limited. Accordingly, some experts call upon the federal government to increase its support for post-reunification services.

  • PA-CFS 21.07

    Parents are provided with needed documents and information related to their children’s time in care, including:

    1. legal documents;
    2. educational records, including copies of report cards and the most current Individualized Education Plan (IEP); and
    3. a written summary of children’s living environments (placements), experiences, and growth while separated from their families.

    Note: As noted in PA-CFS 18.08, parents should also be helped to obtain their children’s health records.

  • PA-CFS 21.08

    Post-reunification services, support, and monitoring are continued for a period of time specified by the agency or court, and until case closing criteria are met.

    Note: See PA-CFS 15 regarding expectations for contact and monitoring following reunification, and PA-CFS 9 for criteria to consider in determining whether a case can be closed.

    Research Note: Some literature suggests that services should be maintained for at least 12 months after reunification.

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