If you have been involved in juvenile court, you often hear that “reunification is the goal.” And that’s true. However, it may be misleading in the sense that even though it’s the goal, DHS may not believe that reunification is possible. But until they get to the point where they’re ready to recommend termination of parental rights (“TPR”), they will continue to say that reunification is the goal.
The problem, of course, is that when parents hear that reunification is still the goal, they assume they are doing ok. They reasonably assume that if they weren’t doing well, DHS would not continue to say that reunification was the goal. Though reasonable, that assumption is not necessarily accurate. And by the time DHS says reunification is not the goal, you may not be able to do anything to prevent termination.
If you are concerned that things may not be going well, don’t assume. Ask. Ask your attorney or your DHS worker. But don’t ask if reunification is still the goal—ask if they think it’s likely based upon what you are currently doing.
Generally speaking, if you are fully engaged in doing what DHS and the courts are asking you to do, then reunification probably is likely. But if you are missing visits, or still using substances, or refusing to do therapy, you may be at risk for termination. Listen to what DHS says they are “concerned” about, because those are things that could also put you at risk for termination.
Ask DHS if there is anything else you need to be doing. Ask if there is anything they are still concerned about. Ask what their recommendation (regarding reunification) would be if the hearing was today. And if it’s not reunification, ask what you have to do to get there.
No matter how hard it is to hear what DHS is concerned about, it’s better to know what it is, so that you can address is and resolve it. You do not want to permanently lose custody of your kids because you buried your head in the sand. Be proactive and engaged.