Between 1973 and 1986, Joseph Goldstein, Anna Freud, and Albert Solnit published three influential but controversial books on the best interests of the child that had an enormous impact on state decisions to intervene in family life and direct the placement of children. During the same period, children in child welfare proceedings were increasingly represented by lawyers or guardians ad litem whose advocacy included understanding and interpreting the meaning of best interests. This article begins by tracing a conversation of sorts that occurs between the authors and other scholars and practitioners as their ideas begin to influence decision-making in child protective and custody proceedings. It then turns to the central issue of how the books provide important lessons to child advocates about the indeterminacy of a best interest standard, the centrality of family integrity, and the need for all professionals working with children to define their decision-making roles clearly but narrowly. The article concludes that if these books had been written today, Goldstein, Freud and Solnit would embrace a child-directed role for lawyers as the sole practice paradigm which fully engages the child advocate in the right practices they proscribe: distinguishing between personal values and professional knowledge; remaining true to their assigned role as counsel within strict legal boundaries; and resisting taking on the roles of other professionals in the case. These right practices, in turn, limit the indeterminacy of the best interest standard by limiting the freedom of the lawyer to decide what is best.
Jane M. Spinak,
When Did Lawyers for Children Stop Reading Goldstein, Freud and Solnit? Lessons from the Twentieth Century on Best Interests and the Role of the Child Advocate,
Family Law Quarterly, Vol. 41, p. 393, 2007; Columbia Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Working Paper No. 07-160
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/2503