Interpreting children's best interests: needs, attachment and decision-making
Summary Many decisions in the child welfare arena revolve around the concept of ‘children’s best interests’, but determining what they actually consist of is contestable and subject to conflicting criteria. This article describes the content of ‘children’s best interests’ discourses used by social workers and parents as part of decision-making rationales. Findings This study found that the construction of children’s ‘best interests’ was underpinned by concepts related to children’s needs. Needs were framed as emotional needs best met by family relationships, and theorised primarily using attachment theory. This resulted in decisions that tended to favour stability over change, as children’s distress on separation, indiscriminate affection, and difficult behaviours were interpreted as evidence of attachment problems that should lead to decisions to retain stable caregiving arrangements. The use of attachment theory was not straightforward, and illustrates the uneasy juxtapositions of conflicting discourses impacting on child welfare decision-making, particularly the influence of policy orientation. Applications These conflicts highlight the contested child welfare domain, and the contextualised interpretations required of attachment theories in decision-making contexts in order to make sound decisions for specific children. Implications for practice and education are discussed.
Publisher: SAGE Publications
Rights Statement: © The Author(s) 2016
Keywords: Attachment theory; best interests; child abuse; judgement; decision making; social constructionism; child and family welfare; child protection
Research Type: Journal Article
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