By Donald Topor, L.C.S.W.
Beacon Behavioral Services, LLC
Children have a right to a relationship with both parents. Yet, the process of
divorce unfortunately can leave children estranged or distanced from one parent.
Sometimes this occurs primarily due to behavior of one parent or the other. At
other times the child may pick a side in order to avoid the discomfort of being
in the middle.
Reconnecting a child with an absent parent is a complex and time consuming
process. There are many parental concerns about reunification that range from
the anticipated quality of the relationship to the impact the relationship may
have on the child. In some cases, after an evaluation, the court may deem
reconciliation not to be in the childís best interests. In other cases, if
reconciliation is instituted it may not be sustained. This can cause
disappointment or difficulty because the child cannot adequately make the
adjustment or one or both of the parents is not doing the difficult work needed
to help the child feel more comfortable as the relationship is rebuilt. Overall,
the process of reunification requires careful assessment to best ensure safety
and appropriately paced progress. The pace of the work is gauged by the childís
ability to tolerate the interventions.
The process of reunification begins by meeting with the parent requesting the
service. We assess the history, impact of the estrangement and any prior
reconciliation attempts. We also look to assess the potential impact of the
reconciliation process and the estranged parentís openness and sustainability
for the long road ahead. We then interview the other parent getting their
perspective and assessing that parentís willingness to support the
reconciliation process. The child is also seen individually to have an
opportunity to build rapport with the counselor and to discuss history, fears,
concerns and needs for and about the process of reunification.
Reestablishing communication regarding the child between the parents is
essential. The reunification therapist also frequently recommends each person
involved has their own psychotherapist and a release is signed to allow for open
communication between the professionals to coordinate this effort. Once the
process begins, the actual work of reunification must be continuously
reevaluated to look for factors that need to be addressed to avoid the
land-mines that impede the process.
In some cases, the childís right to a relationship with both parents can be
complicated by a myriad of issues (e.g., child refusal, unresolved parental
anger, mental illness, substance abuse, etc.). However, as is the case in an
intact family, the child should have an opportunity to build a relationship with
a parent in a safe and child focused manner.
Parent/child reunification is very demanding work. It is demanding on the child,
both parents and the professionals involved. The complexity, intense feelings,
and whatís at stake can lead to significant emotional upset as the process
unfolds. Reunification, if done ethically and safely, with the best interests of
the child in mind, can yield positive results, a better adjusted child and the
ability for the child to have the gift of two parents (with all of their
strengths and weaknesses) to learn from and love.
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