Best interests of the child


The best interests of the child in the family mosaic

How can we better take into account the point of view of children in family matters, in particular when the link with their parent(s) is undermined in the context of a separation, placement in foster care, adoption, etc.? This is the subject of the research that Cirfase has just carried out for the Observatoire de l'Enfance, de la Jeunesse et de l'Aide à la Jeunesse.


This research, commissioned by the Observatoire de l'Enfance, de la Jeunesse et de l'Aide à la Jeunesse, and financed by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, focused on decisions concerning the right to family life, in general, and more specifically in the following situations: children separated from their parents, children of separated parents, adopted children, children living in diversified family models (single-parent family, homoparental family, recomposed family, etc.), children resulting from medically assisted procreation or in search of their origins.
It is based on the assumption that children themselves are able to contribute to the definition of the best interests of the child.
This research therefore gathered the views, experiences and backgrounds of children and young adults who were confronted as children with a decision that had an impact on their family life.
Its main objective was to gain a better understanding of the conditions necessary for a legitimate solution to emerge from family decisions and for that decision to respect, protect and fulfil the best interests of the child in family matters.
The research was carried out in three phases.

First phase: focus groups
In order to identify the potential contributions of the children's perspective, the research relied in the first phase on two panels composed of both experts from different academic disciplines and decision-makers from the field.
Together they assessed the strengths and limitations of different ways of involving children in decisions that affect them, in the light of relevant knowledge and practice. Some twenty actors and experts involved in decision-making on family law were consulted.
The result of this first step is a nuanced and detailed picture of the contribution that children can make to decisions that are less focused on an adult perspective.

Phase Two: Adult retrospective testimonies
In a second phase, around thirty individual interviews were conducted with adults who had experienced divorce or separation from their parents, placement in foster care, adoption or who had been conceived via artificial insemination with an anonymous donor.
These adults, half of them under 30 and half over 30, were invited to talk about their experiences of this situation and to reflect in retrospect on the difficulties, concerns and expectations they had at the time, as well as on the attention they had received from those around them and from those working in the field.

Phase three: Children's argumentation logics
Thirty individual interviews with children aged between 9 and 16 were conducted in a third phase. The children were asked to react to two fictitious family history scenarios ('casus'). The aim was to understand, from their comments and reactions, how children identify the characteristic features of these situations, how they evaluate the different alternatives presented to them, and, ultimately, how they come to define the 'best for them'.
The analysis of these interviews focused on the logic of the children's arguments about the different 'issues' raised by these fictional stories: the choice of accommodation, the choice of leisure activities, family reunification, access to files, etc.
A final focus group of experts and stakeholders carried out the same 'exercise' and were invited to react and comment on the results of the analysis of the children's statements.

In the end, the various elements collected have made it possible to highlight a strong consensus on a set of practical avenues for improving existing procedures at three levels: at the level of structures and professional actors, at the level of practices for listening to and supervising children that allow their participation in decision-making, and at the level of family ties.