Standards for public agencies

2020 Edition

Child and Family Services (PA-CFS) 20: Family Reunification

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


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 20.06, it should collaborate with the family to develop the plan as soon as possible after reunion.

NA  The agency does not provide reunification services.
2020 Edition




Child and Family Services promote child and family well-being, protect children’s safety, stablilize and strengthen families, and ensure permanency.
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.  
Self-Study EvidenceOn-Site EvidenceOn-Site Activities
  • Procedures for preparing children, parents, and out-of-home care providers for reunification
  • Procedures for reunification planning, monitoring, and support, including procedures for referring children and families to post-reunification services
  • Community resource and referral list
  • Interviews may include:
    1. Program director
    2. Relevant personnel
    3. Parents served
    4. Children served
    5. Resource parents
    6. Residential treatment providers
    7. Review case records
  • Review resource parent records


PA-CFS 20.01

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 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.


Examples: While procedures regarding the transition to reunification may vary, many agencies utilize a graduated step-down process that includes home visits, extended home visits, and trial discharge.


PA-CFS 20.02

Parents are prepared for the return of their children and the challenges of reunification through support and guidance that helps 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.


PA-CFS 20.03

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

Examples: The support and guidance provided may vary in amount or type depending on children’s circumstances, including length of time in out-of-home care. 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. While support and guidance may be provided by child welfare workers, resource families and residential treatment providers may also play an important role in preparing a child for reunification. 


PA-CFS 20.04

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.



Elements (b) and (c) will likely be unnecessary when children are leaving residential treatment settings


PA-CFS 20.05

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); 
  3. health and mental health records, including the names and addresses of children’s doctors, as well as information regarding any special needs and appropriate treatment, including any needed medication, as applicable; and 
  4. a written summary of children’s placements, experiences, and growth while separated from their families.


PA-CFS 20.06

Prior to reunification, the agency collaborates with families 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; 
  2. any issues stemming from children’s separation from their families, including any assistance needed to address separation and rebuild the parent-child relationship; and
  3. any additional formal and informal services and supports that the children and family may need.



The plan for maintaining family stability after reunification will likely be an extension of the family’s service plan. While plans should be developed prior to reunification, they should also allow for flexibility based on changing needs and circumstances. 

Examples: 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 re-entry into out-of-home care. Services may be needed by both parents and children, and may include, but are not limited to: substance use treatment; mental health treatment; counseling; medical and dental care, including access to any needed medications; educational advocacy and supports; specialized medical, mental health, developmental, or educational supports for children with special needs; child care; respite care; income support; housing assistance; transportation; homemaker assistance; vocational assistance; case management; mentoring; support groups; and health insurance. 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.


PA-CFS 20.07

Upon reunification, children and families receive services, support, and monitoring for a period of time specified by the agency or court, and until case closing criteria are met.

Examples: It is sometimes recommended that services be maintained for at least 12 months after reunification.
Note: See PA-CFS 14 regarding expectations for contact and monitoring following reunification, and PA-CFS 8 for criteria to consider in determining whether a case can be closed.