For various reasons, parents and children may face long periods of separation due to a parent’s incarceration, drug or alcohol dependency, and many other issues which prevent a parent from caring for or spending time with their child. When a parent later wants to be involved in the child’s life again, the child may naturally have many questions about the parent’s absence and may experience feelings of resentment or loss. In such cases, parents often agree—or the Court may order —that the parent who has been absent from the child’s life should participate in reunification counseling with the child.
Reunification counseling is conducted by a mental health professional, such as a therapist or a psychologist. Often, the counselor will meet with the child and the parent separately, as well as others involved in the case, to explore the issues present in the case. Once the reunification counselor is satisfied that it is appropriate to begin joint sessions, the reunification counselor will typically hold joint sessions with the child and the parent. Often, the parent may also start to enjoy periods of time outside of reunification counseling with the child; for example, a parent may start with a shorter visit, which may be supervised, and eventually progress to overnight periods of custody of the child if everything is going well.
Often, the other parent or caregiver of the child will also face feelings of resentment due to the other parent’s absence. Reunification counselors typically understand this well, and they will try to help everyone involved to be more comfortable with the process. Generally speaking, if it’s safe and a parent is ready to maintain a positive presence in a child’s life, the Court favors rebuilding the parent-child relationship, even if the parent has been absent for several years.