June is Family Reunification Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the vital process of reuniting families, and to honor the perseverance and love that makes it possible. This year marked the 10th anniversary of Family Reunification Day in Maricopa County and the 2nd anniversary in Pima County.

Volunteers smile at Pima County’s second Family Reunification Day.

For nearly 25 years, National Adoption Day has been a significant milestone in the foster care community, but we must also elevate the importance of Family Reunification Day. Reunification remains the primary goal whenever it is safe and feasible, as it provides children with the stability and continuity that only their biological families can offer. To highlight this essential cause, Arizona now has its own Family Reunification Day website.

At the Maricopa County’s virtual event (recorded here), Governor Katie Hobbs provided a heartfelt message that captured the essence of this celebration:

“As a social worker, I have seen the daily struggles that families face. And I know the road to get here has not been an easy one. When things get hard, it’s easy to give up all together. But none of you did. And that is something worth celebrating. Of course, the reason why you didn’t give up is because of your beautiful children. Your sons and daughters, who bring such light and hope into the world every single day. As a mom, I know there is no feeling that can replace the joy that comes with seeing your child smile, watching them live out their dreams, and grow into the person they were meant to be. Hold onto that feeling. Remember that when things get tough, our children make it all worth it. You have each set a great example, not only for your children, but for this entire community. You represent exactly what it means to be an Arizonan. Never giving up. Working hard to do what is right. And overcoming obstacles when they come your way.”

A parent and her two children celebrate at Pima County’s Superhero themed Family Reunification Day.

Pima County, inspired by Maricopa County’s Family Reunification Day workshop at Prevent Child Abuse Arizona’s 2022 Child Abuse Prevention Conference, hosted its second Family Reunification Day. This in-person event celebrated the joyful reunion of 9 families and 40 family members. Additionally, 25 supporters, including judges, court administration, court staff, and volunteers, were present. Stephanie Chavez, a Prevent Child Abuse Arizona Board Member and CASA of Pima County supervisor, who attended the event, felt ignited by the effort to acknowledge reunification as much as counties have previously acknowledged Adoption Days.

The journey to reunification is often challenging. However, the stories of parents who have succeeded are a testament to the power of resilience and determination. Felicia Galaz, a reunified parent, shared her story of perseverance:

“I decided no matter what, I am not giving up. I’m not going to allow my children to grow up in the system – the same system that I grew up in. It was time to step up. Not only did my daughter and my unborn child deserve that, but I did too. I checked myself into a 12-month treatment facility for pregnant women. I did individual therapy, group therapy, trauma therapy, parent education courses, and a 12-step program, all just to prove that I could be a fit parent and reunify with my daughter and keep my unborn son. The odds were against me. My case manager told the judge she didn’t want to move toward reunification, but severance. She believed that even though I was in treatment and seeking help, that I was an unfit parent and nothing was going to change that. The judge said, ‘I understand, however, I’m going to give her one more chance. Everyone makes mistakes, and I believe in second chances.’”

The collective strength and unity of the community are pivotal to the success of family reunification. Parent Ally Lindsey Shine captured this unity in her address:

“Today we are linked not just by our screens, but we are also linked by our resilience, our love, and the unbreakable bonds of family. Each one of us is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of love to overcome the greatest of obstacles. For me, this journey is personal. I know the pain of separation, the ache of longing for your kids and listening to their sounds echoing through the halls of an empty home. It is a journey I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Yet it has shaped me in ways I couldn’t have imagined and I’m very thankful for.”

As Governor Hobbs referenced, every individual has much to learn from Family Reunification and the determination and growth that shapes each family who reunifies. A message of perseverance surfaced in each story. As one parent, Melissa Scriver, often reminded herself, “Don’t quit before your miracle happens.”

Similarly, we cannot quit working to improve conditions in Arizona, tilling a soil that leads to stronger families and better outcomes. Parents each shared a pivotal moment when they received support and accepted that they couldn’t resolve their challenges alone. This aligns with the goal of our prevention work, to ensure that every family has help readily available.

As we celebrated Family Reunification Month in June, we honored the families who have shown immense courage and determination. Their stories inspire us to continue working toward a future in which every child can thrive in a loving, supportive environment.