What is a Bonding Assessment?

A bonding assessment is a study that determines how a foster child has bonded with his foster or birth parents. It hinges upon a central question: if the child was removed from the current placement situation, would his overall well being be improved, hindered or unlikely to change at all?

Bonding Assessment
The answer to this question is determined by a child psychologist. During the bonding assessment, she studies the child’s behavior as well as his interaction with the foster or biological parent and other members of the household. While the psychologist may also interview members of the family together or in subgroups, she is most interested in the child’s behavior.

Each child psychologist may handle a bonding assessment differently, but there are many key components of a child-parent relationship that most evaluators across the nation tend to look for. These include but are not limited to:

  • The frequency and nature of touching between a parent and child
  • Comfort and guidance seeking behavior by the child
  • The parent’s ability to respond effectively to the child’s needs
  • Whether the child seems upset if separation occurs during the session

The psychologist uses the information she gathers to decide, in her professional opinion, if the child would or would not benefit from permanent placement in the home. Oftentimes, the psychologist will offer her findings as testimony in court. This usually happens when a judge is trying to decide whether to terminate the parental rights of the child’s biological parents or determine if the current foster parents should be permitted to adopt the child.

While the child psychologist’s professional opinion does carry weight in court, it is the judge, not the child psychologist, who has final say in where a child will stay. The bonding assessment is simply one part of a much larger process that helps determine what is best for the child.

Still, child psychologists are experts, and their testimony is taken seriously by judges. Thanks to these psychologists, judges know that children will bond with adults who meet their physical and emotional needs even if they are not related. They also know that having strong bonded relationships is critical in child development. It is the judge’s job to minimize any trauma the child would experience by staying in a bad situation or being removed from a good one. A bonding assessment is the test that allows him to do that job.

As much as the bonding assessment may seem like a test of your behavior, the child psychologist’s determination is rooted firmly in the child’s behavior. Many foster and biological parents who have undergone bonding assessments will give you the same advice: be yourself. There’s no need to perform or to try eliciting responses from a child. The beauty of a bonding assessment is that children’s actions – especially very young ones’ – are almost always authentic. If you’ve bonded with the child in your care, and you act as you usually would during the assessment, then the child will show just how strong your relationship is with his behavior.

If you’d like more specific information regarding bonding assessments in New Jersey, reach out to your Foster and Adoptive Family Services Family Advocate (FFA) today. Those outside of New Jersey seeking more information should contact their local case worker.

5 thoughts on “What is a Bonding Assessment?

    • Hi Margaret. That’s right – the purpose of a bonding assessment is to ensure that the child and caretaker have a meaningful relationship. After all, that’s a big part of making sure that the child is well cared for. Whether a bonding assessment is scheduled or not, it’s not easy to sway the results and no one should ever try. Assessors rely on professional training and extensive experience to determine whether the caretaker and child work well together.

  1. We are foster parents wanting to adopt 2 little girls. One we’ve had since 6 days old and the other since 14 months. We did the bonding assessment last night. When they had us leave the room Zoiie who is almost 3 now immediately went to the door to leave with us. The baby was trying to stand and didn’t notice us leaving really. Meanwhile there is no crying and the therapist seems to have them in the palm of her hands. They come out of the room and see my husband in the hall and the baby reaches for him. But No crying for either of us. We return to the room showing our excitement and Zoiie looks happy but doesn’t run to us. I go to her and hold her and she is content. But shows no emotion like at home—when I return home…momma momma! Or she runs to daddy and hugs his leg when he comes home from work. Zoiie really was in an exploration environment and didn’t respond as normal. Why? And does this count against what a therapist would call bonded to us? And if so is it appropriate or even worth it to email them with this question?

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