I: A child can only have one family-bond
The most important characteristic of the family-bond is that a child is understood as only being able to have one at any point in time. The process of forming a new family-bond weakens the existing or potential family-bond, and the formation of a new family-bond entails the cutting of the existing family-bond. Where foster care is constructed as a replacement family-bond, it is thus seen as unsuitable for children for whom the goal of care is family reunification. This section evidences this and suggests a link to the family registration system.
A case study
Ren entered care aged two and was placed with foster parents who were registered for ‘fostering with a view to adoption’. Prior to the adoption being finalised, the couple began divorce proceedings, resulting in the halting of the adoption process.11 Ren was cautious of his foster mother but had formed a strong bond with his foster father. The case discussion highlights two key assumptions: that a child can only have one family-bond at a time, and that institutions are sometimes used because they do not create a family-bond.
SM3: How to word it to a two-year-old?
SM2: Tell him they will live in different houses.
SM1: But normally when [your parents] divorce you go live with one of the parents, but the adoption system does not allow that. He may wonder why didn’t 1 go to the father etc.
SH112: He thinks that they are his parents, do I say - 1 will find you new parents?
SM1: We should explain when he is 18 at the latest, need to record this and what we say now for future workers...
After discussing this as a ‘system type problem with adoption’ the participants continued:
CW: We will find you a new house with mum and dad living together.
SH2: He will not understand. But can tell again when he is older.
CW: Do I take the toys, his [A] and [B]13 which he plays with his dad?
SMI: Want to make it easy for the next caseworker too. As simple and true as possible, [pause] We will have to find a new adopter who can do [B]! This is something we will have to do in life-story work, stress the value of his relationship with these people. Where best for temporary care? Family Home?
SHI: But if he goes to a family home then he will become a child of that home and have to move again.
TCW14: Can he still see his [foster] father? He gets on very well with him. CW: But, it will make moving forwards harder.
SMI: Better if he goes to a BIWI, he won’t think of them as new family, but as staff.
Two decisions are made here. The first is to place Ren into a BIWI rather than a family home for temporary care in order to prevent him from building a new family-bond as this placement would only be temporary. Here an institutional placement, with ‘staff’ not a ‘new family’, is seen as protecting the potential family-bond with the next adopting parents, with staff shift patterns15 and the low staff-to-child ratio16 preventing a family-bond being created. The second decision is to cut the family-bond with his foster father, as maintaining it ‘will make moving forwards harder’. This decision, to wipe the slate clean, is also made to protect Ren’s potential to form a new family-bond.
Underlying Ren’s case is the assumption that a child cannot maintain two family-bonds simultaneously. The institution here is a constructed limbo, a holding space that protects the existing or potential family-bond, in Ren’s case until suitable adoptive parents are found.