Determining the Best Interests of the Child - Massachusetts

Date: September 2023

Guiding Principles

Citation: Gen. Laws Ch. 119, § 1

It is hereby declared to be the policy of this Commonwealth to direct its efforts, first, to the strengthening and encouragement of family life for the care and protection of children; to assist and encourage the use by any family of all available resources to this end; and to provide substitute care of children only when the family itself or the resources available to the family are unable to provide the necessary care and protection to ensure the rights of any child to sound health and normal physical, mental, spiritual and moral development.

The purpose of this chapter is to ensure that the children of the Commonwealth are protected against the harmful effects resulting from the absence, inability, inadequacy, or destructive behavior of parents or parent substitutes and to ensure good substitute parental care in the event of the absence, temporary, or permanent inability or unfitness of parents to provide care and protection for their children.

The health and safety of the child shall be of paramount concern and shall include the long-term well-being of the child.

Best Interests Factors

Citation: Gen. Laws Ch. 119, § 1

In all matters and decisions by the Department of Children and Families, the policy of the department, as applied to children in its care and protection or children who receive its services, shall be to define best interests of the child as that which shall include, but not be limited to, the following: 

  • Considerations of precipitating factors and previous conditions leading to any decisions made in proceedings related to the past, current, and future status of the child
  • The current state of the factors and conditions together with an assessment of the likelihood of their amelioration or elimination
  • The child's fitness, readiness, abilities, and developmental levels
  • The particulars of the service plan designed to meet the needs of the child within their current placement whether with the child's family or in a substitute care placement, and whether such service plan is used by the department or presented to the courts with written documentation
  • The effectiveness, suitability, and adequacy of the services provided and of placement decisions, including the progress of the child

Other Considerations

Citation: Gen. Laws Ch. 119, § 1

In all department proceedings that affect the child's past, current, and future placements and status, when determining the best interests of the child, there shall be a presumption of competency that a child who has attained age 12 is able to offer statements on their own behalf and shall be provided with timely opportunities and access to offer such statements, which shall be considered by the department if the child is capable and willing. In all matters relative to the care and protection of a child, the ability, fitness, and capacity of the child shall be considered in all department proceedings.