St. Lawrence, NY 0-5 Reunification - Article Details

St. Lawrence, NY 0-5 Reunification

In 2011, children ages 0-4 represented over 40% of all confirmed cases of maltreatment in the US and 38% of the total US foster care population. Their foster care placements are frequently longer than the placements of older children, and they are more likely than older children to be adopted instead of being reunified with their biological families.

The negative experiences experienced by young children in the child welfare system occur during a remarkably sensitive and important period of their lives, when both social attachments and neurological development are significant. For children already traumatized, involvement in foster care often further traumatizes them due to multiple placements and limited access to their biological families.


There is a clear sense of urgency to reunite these children with their families.


Heather Rand, St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services

A 2011 joint report titled Action on Behalf of Infants and Toddlers, whose contributors include the American Humane Association, the Child Welfare League of America, the Center for the Study of Social Policy, the Children’s Defense Fund, and ZERO TO THREE indicates “the child welfare system has not done well at addressing the developmental needs of infants and toddlers and, in some instances, acts in ways that threaten their development."

Recognizing the unmet challenge of supporting young children in foster care, St. Lawrence YAP and the New York Department of Social Services (DSS) partnered last September to provide family reunification services specifically for families of children ages 0-5 who are placed in foster care or who are at-risk of out of home placement.

According to St. Lawrence YAP program director Dana LaCoss, supporting parents is a key objective, recognizing that most have significant challenges themselves, such as substance abuse concerns, intellectual disabilities, and mental health challenges.

LaCoss references one of the first parents served in the reunification program, indicating she was a mother with an IQ of 72. DSS took custody of the baby at the hospital as a result of serious domestic violence.YAP support made a difference. “We went from the department saying ‘there is no way the family can do this’ to mom working and being successful” following reunification says LaCoss.

Parents receive as much as 25 hours of direct support from parent advocates. Support often includes helping meet parents’ needs. “We help them get a free cell phone through the government” says LaCoss, referencing federally subsidized mobile phone service. “Then we move into medical” where YAP assists parents in locating pediatricians and even ob-gyn’s for mothers. Parents also receive support in obtaining their GED’s, driver’s licenses, suitable housing, and employment.


The program has been very effective in our County. We have been able to gain quick insight into whether children will be able to be safely reunited with their families and have been able to move in that direction at a smoother and faster pace while ensuring a consistent and positive bonding experience for the children placed into care.


Heather Rand, St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services

St. Lawrence YAP Reunification also provides classroom training to parents on parenting skills. Parents receive training certification upon completion of the curriculum. Completion of parent training is often a DSS or court mandate.

St. Lawrence reunification services also facilitate supervised visitations between children and their biological families 4-6 times per week. Action on Behalf of Infants and Toddlers indicates typical child welfare policy usually dictates visitations once per week. 82% of maltreated children experience serious disruptions in attachments to their caregivers. Support for frequent visitations helps to mend disrupted attachments.

Supporting permanency is the ultimate goal of family reunification services. Unfortunately, a child’s biological parents may not be an option. In such instances, the program employs a method called “family finding” to identify other family resources.

“It’s like private investigating basically” says LaCoss. Child welfare case workers are required to investigate family resources when parents are deemed unsuitable permanency options but such investigations are often limited due to time constraints. St’ Lawrence YAP looks at every relative possible. “We’re digging deeper” say LaCoss.

Family finding frequent includes a review of DSS family records as well as Facebook and obituary queries. “Even when they’re not approved (by DSS), they can often point us to someone who is” says LaCoss. YAP then submits a list of possible family resources to DSS who makes the final decision.

6 months into the program, St. Lawrence YAP’s approach is proving to be effective as their approach to working with young children is through a developmental lens and family focused. “I love this program. I’m excited to be doing this” says LaCoss. “We just started and we’ve already got kids back at home and out of the system."

0-5 Reunification Fact Sheet


Media/Press Inquiries

Ryanne Persinger,
National Communications Director

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