The Importance of Reunifying Families
Throughout this summer, Mason, Lewis and Thurston Counties join with other counties in celebrating Family Reunification, which honor the many families who have successfully reunified after having a child removed due to to a child dependency (or child welfare) action. Local attorney and Family Education & Support Services’ Board Vice President, Christopher Desmond has worked within the the child dependency system for 15 years and shares his perspective about children reunifying with their parents.
Working to keep families together
Chris Desmond has chosen the name “family defender” to describe the legal work he does to help parents who have had children removed or may have their children removed from their homes for abuse or neglect.
“I’m usually representing kids or parents in the court process,” said Chris, who also serves as vice president of the Board of Directors for Family Education and Support Services. “Our job is to advise our clients, and most of the time, our clients’ goal is to get back together with their kids. We work with them to try to achieve that.”
Once children are removed from a home, their parents have a right to discuss the issues in a trial within 75 days. A judge decides the course of any child dependency case.
By state law, the first permanent plan for a child removed from his biological parents is reunification. The second is placement with a relative or a “suitable other” person such as a close friend or someone important in the life of the child. The third option is foster care.
Chris makes the case that, beyond the requirements of the law, reunification is the best option.
“Studies show long-term detriment to a child from being separated from a primary caregiver,” he said. “Even what some people might see as a marginal biological home provides a strong environment for children in that home. Keeping a family together is good for society, for children, for the parent and the family unit overall.”
He added: “I think there is almost universal acceptance of the idea that it is good when parents can reunify.”
Those kids who remain separated have higher instances of teen pregnancy, mental health issues and substance abuse, he said.
Not only does Chris represent those who want their children returned, but he also works to keep them out of the often-overwhelmed child welfare system altogether.
“They are better off being out of the system,” he said. “I can see where families aren’t being treated well in the system.”
With him present to advocate for a family, the attitude is different.
Chris has been a family defender since 2006 and gets great satisfaction is helping keep families together.
“I do really like the work I am doing,” he said.