This paper reviews Australian research on reunification, assesses the quality of the evidence base and identifies future research needs. Despite family preservation being the aim of most Australian child protection jurisdictions there are very few methodologically rigorous studies. The currently available evidence suggests that ethnicity, neglect, parental incapacity and family contact are all important factors in reunification.
While children who are neglected are less likely to be reunified with their parents, parental incapacity has been associated with an increased likelihood of reunification. Possibly this occurs because parental incapacity can be addressed through the provision of appropriate services and supports, enabling children to be safely returned home. Certainly methods to improve parental capacity have been shown to increase the likelihood of reunification. In contrast, Aboriginal children and those living in rural areas were less likely to be reunified. Regular family contact also appears to be important for reunification.
Given the specific preferencing of family reunification in most Australian jurisdictions, the absence of an adequate evidence base to inform policy and practice is concerning and needs to be urgently addressed.