Access and reunification are two major topics of discussion among foster carers. As both revolve around birth families, they can sometimes cause worry or stress in foster carers. Fear not, however – we’ve compiled a complete guide to access and reunification below.

Read on as Anne Marie, our referrals co-ordinator and administrator at Orchard Fostering, takes you through the nuts and bolts of access and reunification, answering all your questions about parental access and reunification in foster care.

If you’re interested in foster care, please reach out to Orchard Fostering today.We’re available on the phone or via email – you can also fill out a form directly on our contact page. We recruit carers from all across Ireland. At the moment, we’re particularly focused on the west and south of the country – if you are in those areas and interested in fostering, please contact us today.

What is access?

Access is where a foster child has a meeting with their birth family. This can include their parents, siblings or extended family members, like grandparents, aunts, uncles, etcetera.

What is the purpose of access?

Access is in place to promote the child’s bond with their birth family and to promote their sense of identity and understanding of where they have come from. This is important for all children regardless of the length of their placement.

Who decides on how much access there is and with who?

Access frequency and length is decided and based on an individual basis by the child’s social worker and some access is court directed where a family judge makes the decision in consultation with the child’s social worker.

Where will access take place? Will the birth family be coming to my home?

Access can be formal or informal.

Formal access takes place in a neutral space such as a social work department office, community centre or a primary care centre. The foster carer’s role is to bring the child to the meeting point and collect them after. An access worker or social worker will supervise the access visit.

Access may be supervised where the social worker or access worker remains for the meeting. Unsupervised access is where the child meets with the family with no professional present.

Informal access is where you could meet birth family members in a neutral space like a park or a shopping centre. This can often happen where there are siblings in care with another carer.

Access with birth family does not occur in the foster carers home and in recent times with COVID some access has been taking place over video call.

Will I know when a child is returning home?

Yes, as a foster carer you will be kept in the loop, through contact with your link worker, the child’s social worker and professional meetings that occur such as child in care and care review meetings. The child will not be removed from your care with no notice and is a planned process where reunification is to occur.

Who decides if a child is to return home?

This decision is made by the courts and TUSLA. They hope to return a child to the birth family where it is safe to do so.

What is the process of a child returning home?

Each case is individual and unique and is treated as such. Depending on the situation a move home date may just be agreed on. In other circumstances a transition will be put in place where a child may make some day visits home and have some overnights at home before returning home full time.

What if I am upset after a child leaves?

This is a perfectly natural reaction, as a foster carer you are expected to care for and bond with a foster child with the knowledge that they may return home. During the assessment process there is training provided on what to expect when a child leaves. We have grief and loss training that is run on a regular basis.

We appreciate that you may need some time between placements for you and your family to process that a child has left. We will support you as much as possible. Orchard Fostering’s social care team is there to provide support and help your own children manage and understand placement endings.

You can read about why foster parents supporting reunification is important part of a foster carers’ journey.

If you’re interested in foster care, please reach out to Orchard Fostering today. We’re available on the phone or via email – you can also fill out a form directly on our contact page.