Sometimes a parent can lose contact with a child during the challenging and confusing process of separation and divorce. It is devastating to the family when this occurs and careful and immediate intervention is necessary to decrease the likelihood of lifelong difficulties.
The process of reunification and the role of the reunification therapist are complex:
When a child is resistant to maintaining a relationship with one parent, this is a signal of much deeper family issues. Our first step is to differentiate between realistic estrangement and parental alienation, and then adapt a specific treatment plan to focus on the needs in that particular situation.
There is no one size fits all treatment plan – each family will need an individualized treatment plan that is focused on the specific issues that have been impacting the parent-child relationships. The therapeutic team will work with each family member towards a goal of re-establishing a more appropriate child-parent dynamic, as well as protecting the children from parental conflict.
MOST BASIC PROTOCOL FOR REUNIFICATION INCLUDES:
Risk and safety of the process
Nonresidential parent’s willingness to follow directions, accept responsibility and be patient
Residential parent’s level of cooperation
Willingness to support the process
The child’s emotional reaction to reunification (e.g. anxiety, anger, disinterest)
Identification of what the challenges and strengths will be for parents and children
Typical Parental Reunification Therapy Session Protocol
Intake session(s) with the parent seeking reunification – 1-4 hours
Intake session(s) with the custodial parent – 1-4 hours
Intake sessions (1 hour) with the child/ren in preparation for the joint reunification sessions: 2-4 sessions
Individual and whole family interventions to treat the contributions to the parent-child problems
Reunification sessions with parent and child (1 hour) – 4-8 sessions or more
At least one (1) session is conducted in the home of the parent seeking reunification
What is involved in Reunification and Family Therapy?
Conducting child meetings until the child is comfortable with meeting the parent in a therapeutic setting.
Conduct a series of sessions between the nonresidential parent and the child with focus on the separation/absence and developing communication between them.
Work toward visits outside the office (with or without the therapist) based on level of risk and the child’s comfort.
Move toward possible overnight visits without supervision.
Establish a normal, on-going parent-time schedule.
Seek ongoing proactive co-parenting counseling with a therapist that both parents feel is qualified and believe will work well with their children.