Thursday, June 17, 2010

Home from foster care: At last, a day to celebrate reunification


Many years ago, I sent an e-mail to Marc Cherna, the reform-minded Director of the Allegheny County, Pa. Department of Human Services. I noted that, like so many other child welfare systems, the one in Pittsburgh had a day to celebrate adoptions. So how about one to celebrate birth families that have been reunified?

Cherna was way ahead of me. He'd already created such an event in Pittsburgh, an annual picnic for reunified families.

After that, whenever a reformer was named to run a child welfare system, I would tell them about Pittsburgh's celebration and suggest they do something similar. That led to three big systems across the country following Pittsburgh's lead.

And on Saturday, for the first time, there will be celebrations of reunified families across the country. The National Project to Improve Representation for Parents Involved in the Child Welfare System, a part of the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, is coordinating the effort. Not everyone is celebrating on June 19. Florida held a week of celebrations around Mother's Day, and Los Angeles County held its celebrations earlier - though you'd never know it if you relied for information on the Los Angeles Times.

I suspect one of the best celebrations will be the one in Chicago, sponsored not by a child welfare agency, but by the Family Defense Center. The keynote speaker is Karl Dennis, pioneer of Wraparound services.

If the child welfare agency in your community isn't sponsoring one of these events, and didn't do one earlier this year, this might be a good time to ask them a question:

You say your first priority is reunification. So why is it that all you ever celebrate is adoption and foster care?