NACAC’s position statements often refer to the best interests of a child or youth, so below we detail what we believe should be included in assessments of a child’s or youth’s best interests. NACAC acknowledges that such determinations are extremely challenging and that workers and judges often must balance competing best interests such as those of the child’s or youth’s siblings or other family members, or community or cultural groups (such as a tribe).
Best interests determinations must be made on an individual, child- or youth-specific basis. The right decision for one child or youth may not be in the best interests of another child or youth, even one in similar circumstances. Best interests assessments should be ongoing, and should take into account changes in the child’s, youth’s, or family’s circumstances. In making such determinations, workers and judges should seek input from the child or youth, family members, and community members.
Policy and Practice Recommendations
Whenever a best interests determination is required, the following factors* shall be considered in the context of the child’s or youth’s age and developmental needs:
- The physical safety and welfare of the child or youth, including food, shelter, health, and clothing
- The development of the child’s or youth’s identity
- The child’s or youth’s background and ties, including familial, cultural, racial, ethnic, language, and religious;
- The child’s or youth’s sense of permanent attachments, including:
- Where the child or youth actually feels love, attachment, and sense of being valued
- The child’s or youth’s sense of security
- The child’s or youth’s sense of familiarity
- The least disruptive placement alternative for the child or youth
- The child’s or youth’s wishes and long-term goals
- The child’s or youth’s community ties, including church, school, and friends
- The physical, emotional, mental health, and educational needs of the child or youth, now and in the future
- The child’s or youth’s need for legal permanence (reunification, guardianship, and adoption)
- The child’s or youth’s need for stability and continuity of relationships with kin, parent figures, and siblings
- The risks attendant to entering and being in foster care
- The probability of success of any (permanent or temporary) placement arrangement
Financial and programmatic support and services should be available to support any placement made in the child’s or youth’s best interests.
*NACAC adapted these factors from the Illinois state statute on best interests.