The most recent termination of parental rights decision coming out of the Michigan Court of Appeals has me thinking about bonding as a means to avoid termination. The case is In re Fisher/Knox, Minors and you can read it here. This is a case out of Family Division Circuit Court in Lansing (Ingham County) where the Court terminated the mother’s rights; in part because she was not bonded with the children and the foster parents were. In this case, the lack of bonding is easily explained because the mother is in prison and will be for several years. Still, parents need to understand the importance of bonding in their attempts at reunification rather than termination.
In Fisher/Knox, the Court of Appeals contrasted the lack of bonding with the incarcerated parent and the idyllic bonding described with the foster parents. Under Michigan’s current child protection laws, this is standard practice. The reason is that the law requires concurrent planning. This means that the Department of Health and Human Services is working on their plan B from the time they open a file. So, while your goal is reunification, the agency is actively grooming and preparing your replacement.
It is very common for me to be in court and see this bias. Foster parents are almost always portrayed in the light most favorable and parents are often portrayed in the light least favorable. So, how is a parent to bond with kids in foster care? First, you need to have a big-picture strategic plan for reunification. That plan needs to focus on every aspect of the case. Here the focus is on the bonding component. Bonding requires time, attention, attitude and planning. If you are one of those parents who is limited to 1 hour a week of supervised parenting time, it is going to be difficult to compete with the foster parent who has the other 167 hours.
So, make the best of it. Plan carefully for every minute. Figure out what you can bring that will make every visit special and creative and wonderful. Your strategy is to get more parenting time and less restrictive parenting time, ultimately moving toward unsupervised parenting time with good reports flowing back to the court. Since bonding takes time, you will want to talk to your lawyer about how to get more time with your child. In Part Two, I will share some tips on how to keep the parenting moving in the right direction.