Fact Sheet: The “Best Interests of the Child” Standard
Miriam Abaya (Former Staff)Child Rights Children of Immigrants
What is the “Best Interests of the Child” standard?
The “best interests of the child” is a principle to ensure government policies safeguard the rights and holistic needs of children. The principle is applied in countries around the world and in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories for specific decisions regarding children.
The “best interests of the child” term refers to certain factors that contribute to children’s well-being. These factors include:
- The child’s views: Children’s views should be given due weight according to their age and maturity to avoid paternalism and discrimination.
- The child’s safety: Children should be protected from all forms of violence, injury, and abuse.
- The child’s well-being: Policies should ensure children’s development, including their physical, mental, and emotional health, access to education, and access to play and leisure.
- The child’s identity: While all children have universal needs, there are needs that are specific to groups of children based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, and immigration status, among other things.
- Family unity: Policies should seek to maintain family relationships, including extended family, where there is not an imminent threat of harm to the child.
This standard can apply to all forms of policymaking, including laws, policies, strategies, programs, plans, guidelines, and budgets. Through the application of this principle, we can improve outcomes for children, their families, and everyone in the United States.
Why is the “best interests” standard important for children?
Children are too often an afterthought in federal policymaking. Though every aspect of government policy impacts kids, from health care to transportation, the government has no way to evaluate whether policies would be good or bad for children, and no unified standard to use for that evaluation. The United States’ response to the needs of children, both domestically and globally, is fragmented and undermines the ability to holistically advance children’s well-being. Because of their age, dependency, maturity, and lack of mechanisms to make the case for their own interests and needs, children depend on adults in society and government to support of their health and well-being. Without a clear mandate to consider their needs, children will continue to be disregarded in policy decisions that impact their lives and well-being. A “best interests of the child” standard would make positive outcomes for children a major objective of policymaking and create a benchmark through which all policies can be evaluated.
The American people agree that all government policies should be governed by a best interest standard. Americans have been consistent in their support for this standard and support it regardless of their political persuasion and whether or not they have children.
Whether through executive action or through legislation, our government must adopt a “best interest of the child” standard for all government policies, advancing child well-being today and for years to come.