Bonding Assessment
Can anyone tell me more about this? I know that they will observe us to determine if there is a bond between us and Baby J. But what are they specifically doing/looking for? I am also curious what they look for with the birth parents.

If the birth parents name a relative, how long before they do a bonding assessment with the relative?

This seems very cruel because Baby J has only known us for her entire life. She has spent minimal time with her birth parents because of missed/cancelled visits. Apparently, she takes well to her birth father, not at all to her birth mother (they are not together by the way) I am still not sure what this all means.

Can someone give me some insight base on their expereince? Thanks!
Here is how mine went. At the time my son was about 18 mos old. He had his assessment with his parents first and then with me last. Each of us were in a room with him and the therapist. I'm not sure what went on with the parents but with mine, I sat and talked to the therapist while my son explored the room. There were toys there so he played. The therapist observed how my son behaved towards me vs me towards him. Did he seek me out. Make physicial contact. Smile when our eyes met etc. The beauty of the boding assessment is that no matter how the adults behave (trying to force affection, connection etc.) the kids reactions/behaviors don't lie. Just be yourself and interact with your child as you always do. You'll do fine.
[INDENT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica]Q: [/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica] What is a Bonding Assessment?[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica]A: [/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica]In situations where child protection agencies, attorneys, or courts need feedback in deciding whether to work toward a return of custody versus exploring options such as guardianship, change of placement, continued foster placement, or adoption ֖ psychologists often complete what is termed a bonding evaluation.Ӕ A bonding evaluation is a specialized type of assessment whose goal is to determine the nature and quality of the childs attachments to birth and/or foster parents, often to address the question of who occupies the position of greatest centrality in a childҒs emotional life. This is roughly equivalent to determining which adult(s) serve as the psychological parentӔ to the child. While mostly conducted in the context of child welfare cases, bonding evaluations are also used in divorce and custody cases, particularly if there are questions about the bond and relationship between a young child and a parent.

While each evaluator may conduct a bonding assessment in different ways, there are common themes. Typically the evaluator pays close attention to certain characteristics between the parent and the child such as:

The frequency and nature of touching between parent and child as an index of comfort level;
Օ Comfort seeking and guidance seeking behavior by the child;
The capacity of the parent to engage the child effectively and to respond to the childՒs expressed needs in an appropriate manner;
Whether the parent and child make eye contact and smile at each other;
Օ Whether the child displays signs of upset if a separation occurs during the session;
How the parent responds to the childՒs signals of hunger, thirst, want of comfort, or need to use the bathroom;
Whether the child is willing to explore the environment while the parent is in the same room.

Attachment theory plays a prominent part in parent-child assessments. It is generally accepted that children who are securely attached to a caregiver usually appear relaxed, happy, and enthusiastic while interacting with that person. Stereotyped reactions such as a forced laugh and severely limited range of responses during a session are much more likely to be present in conflicted relationships. With young children in particular, it is especially important to examine the caregiverՒs ability to recognize and respond to the non-verbal cues put forth by the child [e.g., eye contact, smiling, reaching, crawling toward, etc.]. While some will make the argument that the adults in a bonding assessment will be on their best behavior and thus able to fool the examiner, this runs counter to attachment theory. Attachment cannot be faked and an evaluation of this nature is usually able to distinguish between behavior in the child that has been reinforced over time as opposed to the childs short-term reactions to the immediate responses of the parent. Children know when someone is genuinely available to respond to their basic attachment needs.

One of the more important elements of the bonding assessment is the review of history. It is well-founded that history is often the best predictor of future behavior.

Another important element of a childҒs history is the involvement of the birth or primary parent with the child. Even in the case of a child who has been placed with a foster parent at birth, a strong attachment is possible if the birth parent visits consistently and meets the child's needs in a variety of contexts. In such cases, consistent contact with the parent enables a young child to internalize an image of the adult as a caring and helpful figure. It is easier for a parent to assume a position of centrality in a childs internal world in the event of a return of custody than it is for a parent who was previously in a peripheral position in the childҒs inner mental life.

With respect to the term bonding,Ӕ it is helpful to conceptualize this as a reciprocal attachment, which both parties want and expect to continue, and which is interrupted or terminated at considerable peril to the parties involved. Bonding can be specifically defined in four concrete and evidentiary ways, any one of which is sufficient to indicate its presence:

1. Time and place
2. The behavior of a child
3. Reciprocal attachment
4. Family identification

Humans bond by sharing important events in daily life such as eating, sleeping and playing with each other. Time spent together is one factual way to measure bonding. In a parent/child setting, bonding is likely after three months. Research indicates that this is the length of time that normal human beings take to adjust to new and/or difficult situations. Bonding is probable after six months. Most children will adjust and attach well within this period. Many courts and states acknowledge this fact when selecting adoptive homes. The Indiana Child Welfare Manual, for example, recommends that preference for adoption be given to foster parents who have had the child in their home for six months or more.

Bonding is almost certain after one year. One year is a long time in the life of a child. For this reason, the Adoption and Safe Families Act has attempted to set a limit on the time a child can be kept in temporary care. The Adoption and Safe Families Act recognizes that it is harmful-and even abusive-חto move a child who has been with a family for one year or more.

Many state child welfare agencies have definitions of bonding that consider how the relationship is viewed by the rest of the community. This can include: a) the child identifies as a member of the family and the family considers the child to be a family member; b) the child is perceived to be a member of the family and is treated as such by the community such as school, friends, church, neighbors or extended family members; and c) the child has developed reliance upon and trust in the family while in their care.

Children form significant attachments to adults who meet their physical and emotional needs regardless of any biological connection. This bonding outweighs biological kinship, not because the biological parents may not have certain rights,Ӕ but because these rights are superseded by the harm that can result from moving a bonded child.

Bonded relationships are critical in child development. When a bonded relationship is threatened or severed, trauma often results. Interrupted bonding takes a huge toll on human health and well-being. The younger the child and the deeper the bond, the more devastating will be the impact. Interrupted bonding commonly contributes to or causes many types of psychiatric disorders in children. Interrupted bonding may also lead to later and more serious adult disorders. It is this recognition that helps form the foundation of attachment theory. Multiple researchers throughout the years have consistently identified the correlation between disrupted bonding in infancy and the later development of significant psychiatric disturbance.

Fortunately, courts are recognizing the importance of bonding and attachment when considering placement decisions. The courts have used terms like continuity of careӔ and risk of transitionӔ when describing the importance of attachment and keeping children in bonded relationships. The Washington Appellate Court, for example, wrote:

"...Evidence relevant to an adoptive placement decision may include, but is not limited to, the psychological and emotional bonds between the dependent child and its biological parents, its siblings, and its foster family; the potential harm the child may suffer if severed from contact with these persons as a result of placement decisions; the nature of the childs attachment to the person or persons constituting the proposed placement; and the effect of an abrupt and substantial change in the childҒs environment. An important objective is to maintain continuity in the childs relationship with a parental figure and to avoid numerous changes in custody, if this is possible, without harm to the child. Where possible, the initial placement shall be viewed as the only placement for the child."

Finally, the Model Statute for Termination of Parental Rights, developed by the Neglected Children Committee of the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges notes that ғChildren have their own built-in time sense based on the urgency of their instinctual and emotional needs. The Statute notes that what seems like a short wait for an adult can be an intolerable separation to a young child. Protection of childrenԒs attachment to foster caregivers is mentioned in the Introduction, which asserts that repeated uprooting of children in placement who have become attached to serve their parents is seriously detrimental to their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.Ӕ The Model Statute mandates that courts take into account Whether said child has become integrated into the foster family to the extent that his familial identity is with that family.Ӕ The Statute instructs courts to note the love, affection and other emotional ties existing between the child and the parent and his ties with the integrating family,Ӕ as well as the capacity and disposition of a parent from whom he was removed as compared with that of the integrating family to give the child love, affection and guidance, and continuing the education of the child.Ӕ


[INDENT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica]Q: [/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica] How Does this fit with Attachment?[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica]A: [/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica]Genetics influence all aspects of human development, with the exception of attachment. Instead, attachment is a process that is based on experience. Parents and other care providers absolutely shape the attachment of children.

Children can be attached to parents, but not the reverse. Attachment is equated with safety. When a child is scared, anxious, or needy, he or she will put forth a variety of verbal and nonverbal cues to indicate their level of stress or need. When the parent intuits what the child needs and responds accordingly, the child's stress goes down and he/she feels safe. If the parent does not respond, or if her response is inconsistent or erratic, the child can develop an unhealthy attachment style. If we were to say that the parent is attached to the child, it means the parent derives a sense of safety with the child. Clearly, this is not normal within the parent-child relationship. We want the child to experience this, but not the reverse.


[INDENT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica]Q: [/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica] What About Intervention?[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica]A: [/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica]Increasingly, we are recognizing that it is not what happens to us in life that matters so much, but rather, how we make sense out of it. This is true for adults (which is why it is sometimes easier to cope with trauma that is an "act of God" versus one that occurs at the hand of men), as well as for children. With young kids, however, they need our help in understanding how and why things happen.

Children with disorganized types of attachment did not receive this level of validation during times of stress. In many instances, they were actually afraid of--or afraid for--the parent, and at no point did they receive acknowledgement, support, or what attachment therapists refer to as 'repair.' Think about your own adult relationships. Usually, the issue isn't so much about what caused stress or conflict between two people. More important, are they able to 'repair' the 'break?' This is at the heart of empathy and it is one of the things young children who find themselves in chaotic or stressful situations lack.

Often, it is not possible to prevent a child from finding himself in a stressful situation. This can result when the child is in foster care; has to visit with an 'unfamiliar' parent; or must visit with a parent who does not offer attunement, empathy, and playfulness. While we may not be able to intervene and stop these events, we must do what we can to offer the child the 'repair' he needs in order to cope with the stress. Otherwise, the child can't regulate their emotions and they may tantrum, regress, or act out following visits.

Hi there,

Vernelli did an excellent job and I thought I'd just chime in on the legal element of bonding assessments. A bonding assessment is typically done when Termination of Parental Rights is being sought based on the grounds of a child's "best interests." (There are several grounds that can be used to motion for TPR, i.e. abandonment, attempted murder, etc.) The "best interests" ground exists because NJ law recognizes children's attachment to foster parents as grounds for TPR when the plan of adoption "will not do more harm than good." While the child's parents' history, contact, lack of progress, etc. are all used to evidence a child is better off being adopted by his/her foster parent, a bonding assessment is the best evidence in court because it is conducted by an objective expert who assesses the bonds (or lack thereof) first hand and accounts for all aspects of the case.

If you have time, you can put together photos or a life book to show the evaluator. Also, If you've documented all contact throughout your time fostering your baby,(which I highly recommend), bring that documentation as well. DYFS doesn't always spell it out as well or as accurately as we do.

I concur that the best thing to do is relax but that's easy for me to say having never gone through one. Even so, I'm confident your bond will prevail. Smile

Best wishes!
When you say to document all contact, do you mean with any DYFS worker or with the birth parents? I have not documented any contacts. I started a communication log with her mom where we would write to each other through the visits. I eventually bought a journal notebook to send to the visits so that the letters were kept in one place. I write to her dad, but he doesn't send letters back. Her dad has only made two of the seven visits he could have had.
Sorry that was so ambiguous. I specifically meant documentation of visits with family but I personally document everything in one, rolling Word document. Specifically, I note:

*Training we've completely during time with foster child
*Visits to our home by DYFS
*Visits with family
*Scheduled visits with family that were missed or cancelled
*Anything notable about visits (if baby comes baby stressed, your contact with bios, etc.)
*Court dates (and whether or not I attended, which I always do unless it's administrative)
*Dr. Visits (reason for visit, height, weight, head circumphance, and any findings)
*Daycare/school info.
*Summary of care (I complete and submit before each court hearing. My summaries detail how the baby has progressed since the last hearing, any new medical problems, developmental milestones, etc.)
*Requests (for the judge)

I'm not sure if your letters with the bios are a good thing to present at the bonding assessment unless they contain statements that would substantiate their inability to parent long-term. It's such a slippery slope that I'd say don't bring those. (But I'm really impressed that you established that communication and think it's great!--for everyone involved, especially the baby!)

Best wishes to you!
I'm sorry mistonicee, here's a slight amendment:

I went off on a tangent but should note that the documentation I do is for court--not specifically for bonding assessments. I was thinking that, if you documented family visitation and in doing so developed a pattern (i.e. "parents attended 10 out of 24 visits") then that info. might be useful in a bonding assessment because, in addition to what the evaluator witnesses in person, s/he can also deduce that so little contact could not facilitate a sufficient parental bond relative to your bond with the baby).

Bottom line, if you haven't documented visits with family there's no need to worry. It really wouldn't make or break the assessment. DYFS will provide the evaluator with the parents' history, progress, visitation, etc...but sometimes DYFS caseworkers are vague (at least in my cases). That's what prompted me to think about it.

Again, I have no doubt you'll do great!
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