Published in the December 2015 issue of Policy and Practice
The term “bonding” is frequently used but rarely defined. Nationwide, more than 397,000 children live in foster care.(1) When a court decides where to place a child whose primary residence has been shattered, certain guidelines must be followed. However, the lines between blood and bond are not so clearly drawn when a foster parent files to adopt the child for whom they have provided long-term care, and a previously unknown blood relative emerges to challenge the placement. Whatever guidelines are used, the court must still understand the child’s best interests. How does the court weigh the genetic relationship against the parent-in-place? When properly defined and understood, bonding merits serious consideration. In short, bonding matters. The unnecessary disruption of existing bonds can have devastating consequences.
For courts and welfare departments to give bonding the attention it deserves, the concept must first be objectively defined and carefully explained. After an extensive review of the literature, we offer this definition:
All children have the right to a permanent home within child time. Federal law has set appropriate deadlines for permanence. Yet the average time spent in foster care is approximately two years. The solution to prolonged foster care should be obvious. Either return the child to his birth home or find a new one with minimal delay. Time is not on the side of a growing child. Why the delay? Because the system is flawed. Foster care is currently structured in a way that makes it more likely a child will remain in long-term foster care rather than be reunified or adopted.
Graphic physical evidence is added to socio-psychological data and appellate court decisions in support of bonding. A comprehensive outline is provided for use in disagreements when adoption by long-term foster parents is challenged by recently resurrected kin. Read the article Brain Research Supports Bonding.
In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal explored the issue of open adoptions, which allow some form of contact between adoptive and birth families. About 95 percent of domestic private adoptions are now open (compared to around 36 percent in the late 1980s). Also known as “cooperative” adoptions, there are benefits and challenges. Obviously, the statistics suggest that the advantages outweigh the problems.
In April 2012, Listening to Parents released "Blueprint for Reform- Eliminating Barriers to the Adoption of Children in Foster Care." The report was developed after a group of national adoption and family policy experts (including NACAC board and staff) gathered at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in March 2011. Together, they designed a blueprint for reform and are now working to implement needed changes.
I just returned from a national foster care conference where we held the usual raffles to raise money for college scholarships. I have a problem. Education is the way one generation passes on its accumulated knowledge to the next. We need to expand our understanding of education. It is not all about college. Learning means making sense of the environment by interacting with the people and things around us. Choosing an appropriate course of study is becoming important not only for foster children but for all young people.
Under current law, the adoption tax credit is not refundable in 2012 or beyond and, beginning in 2013, would apply only to people who incur qualified adoption expenses in the process of adopting a child with special needs. However, President Obama's fiscal year 2013 budget proposal would make the tax credit permanent for all adoption types, and maintain the maximum credit regardless of expenses for families who adopt children with special needs. In addition, the budget proposes making the adoption tax credit refundable for both 2012 and 2013.
A significant voice in court is necessary for foster parents if they are to provide the judge with the personal knowledge of the child that they possess. The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) granted them the right to be heard but this has often been misunderstood or overlooked. Frequently, it has proven difficult to get the attention of the judge.
Recent news stories (Atlantic Monthly, 12/2011) have documented abuses on adoptions from overseas, particularly from Guatemala and Ethiopia. Overseas adoptions have become a lucrative business for some, subject to fraud and corruption. Widespread stories from Guatemala surfaced of adoption brokers paying birthmothers to sell their children, lying to them about what an adoption meant, and even abducting children. Records were doctored to describe children as orphans when they actually had living parents.