The main welfare checklist is set out in s 1 of the Children Act 1989 . The welfare of the child is said to be paramount and the court must consider each of the following factors in any case concerning the upbringing of a child:
- The ascertainable wishes & feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding;
- His physical, emotional and educational needs;
- The likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;
- His age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant;
- Any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
- How capable his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, are of meeting his needs;
- The range of powers available to the court under the Children Act 1989 in the proceedings in question.
The Act does not define what paramount means: the Oxford English Dictionary says it means 'more important than anything else, supreme'.
There is another welfare checklist in s 1 of the Adoption & Children Act 2002. The act says that not only the court, but the adoption agency coming to any decision relating to the adoption of a child, must treat the child's welfare as paramount. The factors the court & adoption agency must consider are:
- the child's ascertainable wishes and feelings regarding the decision (considered in the light of the child's age and understanding);
- the child's particular needs;
- the likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person;
- the child's age, sex, background and any of the child's characteristics which the court or agency considers relevant;
- any harm (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
- the relationship which the child has with relatives, and with any other person in relation to whom the court or agency considers the relationship to be relevant, including (i) the likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so, (ii) the ability and willingness of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person, to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop, and otherwise to meet the child's need, and (iii) the wishes and feelings of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person, regarding the child.
In adoption decisions, the agency must also give due consideration to the child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background. Both the court and adoption agency must always consider the whole range of powers available to it in the child's case.