When children are removed from home due to child abuse or neglect or because of the child’s behavior, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) may file a dependency case in the court. Or, in cases where parents agree to the placement, services may be provided to the family to help resolve their problems without going to court. In both instances, when it is possible to do so safely, the goal of DSHS is to reunify the family.
Between 1995 and 2002, the annual number of reunifications dropped by 31 percent. The Washington State Legislature directed the Institute to identify factors that reduce family reunifications in Washington. To do this, we merged administrative records from DSHS with court records of dependencies for the same children. We found that most of the reduction in reunifications has occurred because the number of out-of-home placements has dropped, not because of any significant change in rate of reunification.