Two Australian academics have questioned the holy grail of Best Interest for the Child test. This has been the standard that is so often spoken about in legal and mental health circles. But these academics have raised serious doubts about just what the standard means. Writing in the journal Children Australia, they conclude:
"It is clear that child protection systems can and should be managed is such a way as to reduce the number of children removed from parental care (Ainsworth & Hansen, 2008) while at the same time protecting children from harm.
The removal of a child from parental care is traumatising for the parents and the child. For it to be in the best interests of the child there has to be overwhelming evi- dence that without removal from parental care the child would be at risk of significant harm. In addition, we argue that there has to be a guarantee that removal from parental care and the placement of a child into state care will enhance the child’s future life chances" (p.15).
What Hansen and Ainsworth raise in the article is the idea that we may not really understand best interest. They cite a legal scholar who notes:
"I do not believe that we will ever be able to create a standard, a test, a rule of practice or of law that will be able to definitively to establish what is or is not in the best interests of a child. (Zito, 2010, p. 51)" (p.13)
How can it be in the child's best interest when so much research suggests that in cases where the parent could be good enough, the child will be better off with the parent. Long term outcome research on children raised in foster care versus those raised in even marginally good enough homes do poorer. Let there be no misunderstanding - where the children are truly at risk, they are better off in care. What this research and much other is suggesting is that we need to develop better understandings of when it is and is not in the child's interest to not be in the care of parents. The research keeps leading us to the conclusion that if it is a marginal case (one where it could go either way), keep the kids with the parents and try to make it work.
That is of course a risk in and of itself. If it does not work out then the children will have been in more harmful situation longer. It seems however, that the research is suggesting that the risk may be worth it for the majority of children in these marginal situations.
You can read their article at: