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?
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.