Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle to make acting according to the best interests of a child the primary factor in decisions made by government agencies on behalf of children in need has been signed into law.
"Previously, the consideration of the best interests of a child was only one of several factors that state government agencies and courts of law had to weigh when making decisions involving the welfare of children," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "However, this should always be the predominant factor and primary focus for these agencies. This measure clarifies that the best interests of a child should always come first."
Under previous law, when taking any action involving a child, state governmental agencies and courts of law had to take into account the best interests of the child among many other factors. The new measure (A-4856) amends the law to mandate that in these instances, the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration.
Specifically, the measure amends a state law to expand the purposes of the "New Jersey Code of Juvenile Justice" to specify that, in any action undertaken within the provisions of the code, the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration.
The measure also amends another state law regarding allegations of child abuse and neglect to clarify that the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration when providing for the protection of children under 18. Previously, when providing protection to children under 18, the safety of children was only to be "of paramount concern."
Further, the measure amends state law to specify that the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration when determining and making reasonable efforts to:
- prevent, if possible, the out-of-home placement of a child;
- safely return a child home after an out-of-home placement;
- place a child for adoption, with a legal guardian, or in an alternative permanent placement while concurrently planning to preserve and reunify the child's family; and
- place the child in a timely manner and complete the necessary steps to finalize the permanent placement of the child, if family reunification is not possible.
Lastly, the measure amends state law to make the best interests of the child a primary consideration in cases that involve child protective services.
"These decisions are often difficult ones to make," added Vainieri Huttle. "Knowing what to prioritize can ease the process and avoid creating more hardship for the children involved. This simple change can make a drastic impact."
Previously, when determining and making reasonable efforts under the provisions of the law, the health and safety of a child were "of paramount concern." The law did not specify that the best interests of the child should also be a "primary consideration."
The measure gained unanimous approval from the legislature before being signed by the governor on Tuesday.