Here is a sad but typical case that would never happen if blood relatives were located and considered as placements at the beginning, when a child is removed from the birth home.

Mother’s parental rights to her three small children were terminated following 23 months and several unsuccessful attempts at reunification. The foster parents, who had the children from the beginning, wished to adopt. At this point, a wealthy out-of-state single grandfather surfaced and contested the adoption. The child welfare department recommended that the children be “awarded” to the grandfather. The judge agreed. Blood is thicker than water.

This case is not unusual. Foster children are too often removed from long-term foster/adopt homes and placed with a distant and heretofore unknown relative. Some child welfare workers and courts see the extended biological family as the automatic preferred placement, no matter how attached the child has become to another family. This prejudice results from a misunderstanding of what constitutes a family and ignorance about what may happen to a child when a bonded relationship is interrupted. Relationships may be established genetically or by bonding or both.

Bonding is a significant reciprocal attachment which both parties want and expect to continue, and which is interrupted or terminated at considerable peril to the parties involved. Human beings bond by sharing everyday vital life events, such as eating, sleeping, and playing together. Research shows that bonding is likely after three months of 24/7 contact, probable after six, and almost certain after 12 months. The earlier in life that the bonded relationship is interrupted, the more serious are the likely consequences.

Interrupted bonded relationships take a heavy toll on human health and well-being. A common result is detachment, a child who no longer trusts and simply refuses to become attached or love again. Mental illness, now or in later adult life, becomes significantly more likely. So also do homelessness, crime, and poverty. Bonding IS a relationship. Bonded persons are related. This is why bonding must take precedence over mere kinship.