The dictionary defines a bond as a “unique relationship between two people enduring for long periods, even a lifetime.” Bonding must be practically defined in ways the court can accept and understand. After an extensive review of the literature, we offer this definition:
“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.”
Humans bond, not through therapy but quite naturally, by sharing over time important events in daily life, such as eating, sleeping, and playing together.
Based upon long-term socio-psychological research, four specific and evidentiary definitions have been incorporated into state child welfare manuals, any one of which is sufficient to demonstrate the presence of a bonded relationship.
- Time: Bonding is likely after three months, probable after six, and almost certain after 12 months of constant daily contact.
- Behavior: Research shows that bonding can be assessed by the way a child acts. Based on this research, bonding checklists have been developed.
- Reciprocal Attachment: Bonding is a two-way street, and can be measured by the strength of the parties’ mutual promises and commitment.
- Family Identification: The wisdom of the larger community, including the extended family, neighbors, church, and school, attests to whether the child is already perceived as a family member.
A strong and demonstrable definition of bonding is vital because research shows a significant increase in pathology when it is interrupted. By that time, however, it is too late. For the sake of our vulnerable children, we need to identify bonded relationships in advance, before we have inadvertently increased the risk for serious harm.