What is Voice? The Implementation of the Best Interests’ Standard in an Australian Child Protection Context
Keywords:Child protection, Voice, Best interests of the child, Out of home care, Anti-oppressive practice, Involuntary
This article has been written with the purpose of exploring how voice is represented in the application of the ‘best interests’ principle within child protection in Australia. It seeks to identify the connection between anti-oppressive theory and the lack of representation of voice from the families and children who are involuntarily involved with child protection agencies. In this article, I begin with a brief look at the historical use and origins of the best interests’ standard in a child protection context. It identifies the current Australian legal frameworks that utilises the best interests’ standard, the core foundations for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the historical and current implications for practice. In this article, I consider the link between the use of the best interests’ standard in describing what risk in child protection is, and subsequently how voice is then represented in practice and legal frameworks. I explore the barriers which adversely affect the ability of practitioners to invite, hear and understand the voice of those they work with. In this article, I conclude that the standard has been a consistently tokenistic, misrepresenting and, at times, self-serving mechanism. In Australia, the best interests’ standard has not represented the voices of the people who are involuntarily involved with the system and privileges the voices of those with decision-making power. I seek to highlight that the issue is not about recreating the systems within child protection, rather meaningfully engaging the voices of the families and children who are involved with it.
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