"Everyone is safe and good": the search for permanence through reunification

Ward, J. ORCID: 0000-0002-5531-7131, 2016. "Everyone is safe and good": the search for permanence through reunification. DSocPrac, Nottingham Trent University.

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This study examines the reunification of children in care with their birth families, and whether this can contribute to our understanding of permanence.
The existing literature on reunification reports poor success for reunification as a means of achieving permanence. In addition the literature lacks accounts of the lived experience of the people involved. Therefore, the research questions were:
Considering children who have been looked after and are now reunified with their birth family:
How can we understand the experience of children, their carers and their social workers?
And secondly, What do these experiences tell us about permanence for Looked After children?
Using an Interpretative Phenomenological Approach (IPA) the experiences of 3 children, one parent and one grandparent, and their social workers were investigated. The aim was to understand the experience of these families who had been successfully reunited. Seven interviews were transcribed and analysed. IPA is deeply rooted in the experiences of the individual, which are interpreted in a questioning way, albeit while fundamentally accepting the participants account. IPA is thus particularly appropriate for exploring this research question.
Ethical approval was granted by the Nottingham Trent University Professional Doctorate Programme ethics committee.
The interviews revealed the importance of the birth family bond; these family ties were sustained throughout a long period of separation. Contact was important in maintaining these ties, much of it unofficial.
Reunification reinforced the children’s sense of identity. Membership of the birth family and the support this provided contributed to their resilience and sense of permanence.
The families had to reconstruct family life: 'doing family'.
Strong motivation was demonstrated from both carers and children. Equally important was the belief of the social workers that the families could change, and their tireless efforts to support the families through periods of difficulty. The local authority policy of exiting children from care provided the impetus for this process.
Commitment to the birth family formed a key underpinning value system for the social workers.
Factors emerged which both reinforce and challenge previous findings about successful reunification; key points are:
• Children can be reunified at an older age and after a long period in care.
• Contact is a very powerful factor, and unofficial contact helped keep the birth family ties alive.
• The social worker has a key role as an agent for change.
• The legal status of the placement (discharge of the care order) was extremely important to the families, as it confirmed that the social workers had confidence in them.
The implications for practice identified are:
1. The need for a strong professional assessment, using a strengths based perspective.
2. Open-mindedness and the ability to see the potential for change.
3. Commitment to the process even when the going gets tough. 4. Acknowledgement of the strength of the family bond for some families.
5. Listening to the children, both spoken and unspoken messages (e.g. through behaviour).
6. Understanding the importance of the legal status of the placement.
The study demonstrated that permanence can be achieved for older children in inauspicious circumstances through reunification with the birth family.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Ward, J.
Date: December 2016
Rights: This work is the intellectual property of the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed to the owner(s) of the Intellectual Property Rights.
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 02 Feb 2018 09:36
Last Modified: 06 Feb 2018 12:27
URI: https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/32609

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