Reunification: An Evidence-Informed Framework for Return Home Practice
- Funders: The Department for Education
- Duration: July 2014 to January 2016
- Lead applicants: Professor Elaine Farmer (University of Bristol);Tom Rahilly and Mandy Wilkins (NSPCC)
- Co-researcher: Dr Demi Patsios (University of Bristol)
- Research Centre: Children and Families Research Centre, School for Policy Studies
This is a joint development project between the University of Bristol and the NSPCC.
The aim of the project was to create, in partnership with local authorities, a Reunification Practice Framework (PDF, 4,969kB)an Implementation Checklist (PDF, 4,275kB) and an Evaluation (PDF, 528kB). These publications are now available to local authorities so that they can use them to embed good practice in returning children home from care. The Practice Framework was informed by an overview of the relevant research literature on reunification (Reunification from Out of Home Care: A Research Overview of Good Practice (PDF, 255kB). The research team worked closely with three local authorities over a period of six months, supporting them to take the necessary steps at both strategic and operational levels to implement the Practice Framework. The approach used in working with them was then summarised in an Implementation Checklist in order to assist other local authorities to introduce and use the Framework, without outside help. In addition, the team undertook an Evaluation examining the views of practitioners and managers on the usefulness of the Framework and how it had been implemented.
Background to the project
For a child, returning home from care to their parent/s can be as difficult as the previous separation from them. Research shows high rates of abuse and neglect when a child returns home, with many children ending up back in care.
Whilst these studies paint a worrying picture, the research also highlights the kind of practice that is most likely to make a child’s return home lasting and safe.
The Reunification Practice Framework draws on these research messages to provide practical guidance and tools for practitioners working with children and families.
What is the Practice Framework?
The Framework supports practitioners and managers to apply structured professional judgement to decisions about whether and how a child should return home from care.
It supports families and workers to understand what needs to change, to set goals, access support and services and review progress. The emphasis in the Framework is on engaging children and parents in the process.
The tasks in the Framework will mainly be undertaken by the child's social worker and their manager, assisted by family support teams. In addition, foster carers, residential care staff and schools all have a significant role to play in supporting children and parents throughout the process.
How the project was undertaken:
1. Informed by a literature review, the development of the Reunification Practice Framework was undertaken by the NSPCC in partnership with the University of Bristol. The Framework builds on the substantial earlier work on developing a framework undertaken by the NSPCC.
2. Learning Sets were run by the NSPCC in three local authorities over a six month period to assist in the implementation of the Practice Framework.
3. Building on the learning sets, the NSPCC developed an Implementation Checklist for staff leading the introduction and implementation of the Practice Framework in a local authority. They are likely to be directors, assistant directors, heads of service and senior managers with strategic responsibility for looked after children, edge of care, family support services and workforce development.
4. The University of Bristol undertook an evaluation of the implementation of the Framework.
5. The final version the literature review of good practice in reunification is now available to download.
Copies of the Reunification Practice Framework, the Implementation Checklist, the Evaluation and the Research Overview can be accessed below:
Wilkins M. and Farmer E. (2015) Reunification: An Evidence-Informed Framework for Return Home Practice, London, NSPCC
Wilkins M. (2015) How to Implement the Reunification Practice Framework: a Checklist for Local Authorities, London, NSPCC.
Farmer E. and Patsios D. (2016) Evaluation Report on Implementing the Reunification Practice Framework, Bristol, University of Bristol
Farmer E. (2018) Reunification from Out-of-Home Care: A Research Overview of Good Practice in Returning Children Home from Care, Bristol, University of Bristol,