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Process Issues In Child Custody And Access Assessments
“process” of assessment refers to the systematic gathering of
information, through a methodical plan of action. Using a medical analogy,
imagine a surgeon who cuts before anesthetizing you. Process is
everything! In the context of an assessment, a questionable process may
undermine the credibility of the assessment, the clinical findings and the
recommendations. This can be avoided with attention to the process as
involved in custody and access disputes should not phone assessors
directly during the referral process. If they do, they risk the other
parent will be concerned that the assessor will be biased by a one-sided
version of events.
it is better if the lawyer for either parent calls assessors first to
determine the appropriateness of referral, timelines, costs, etc.
Furthermore, the lawyer can request a copy of the CV and ask any other
pertinent questions as may be necessary or of concern to their client.
that a given assessor is appropriate to the task at hand, the next stage
is to seek agreement with the lawyer of the other parent for the referral
to take place. Upon reaching agreement or alternately, upon the
appointment of an assessor by the Courts, a lawyer should again contact
the assessor and discuss data collection and payment.
monies in advance and holding in trust either by the assessor or by the
lawyer is suggested. Having monies upfront reduces concern that the
assessor will bias the report with a view to payment. If the cost of the
assessment is greater than the amount held in trust, the assessor should
take action to ensure that additional monies are secured prior to the
disclosure meeting or the submission of the assessment report.
the matter of data collection, lawyers should deliver the legal file and
supporting documents, assessments reports, etc, prior to the assessor
setting direct interviews. Having the materials in advance of meeting the
parents, allows the assessor to better prepare for the content of the
meetings by determining and focusing on salient issues.
the referral accepted by the assessor, monies in place and documents
secured, then the assessor may call the parents and begin the formal
interview process. While some parents and lawyers perceive an advantage to
the sequencing of interviews, generally no advantage is actually accrued. Multiple appointments will be made and any issues arising should
find opportunity for discussion over the course of several interviews.
and access assessments, in accordance with professional guidelines must
include interviews with both parents. To do otherwise is considered a
“one-sided’ assessment and hence subject to bias, the results of which
will be suspect. To do otherwise can only be done on the basis of a
substantial issue, supporting such action. There is also a high
expectation that parents will be seen with their children and that
children will be seen on their own. There is however greater latitude here
with concern to the interests, risks and well-being of the children.
Interviews with other informants and obtaining of other documents may take
place during the process of direct interviews.
data collection and interviews, a report is written. While some assessors
may choose to release the report with simultaneous delivery, other
assessors will require a four-way disclosure meeting, to present
the assessment, recommendations and written report. The advantage of a
four-way meeting is that again it precludes bias that may be perceived as
a result of sequencing and it allows questions, but more importantly,
answers to be heard by all parties at the same time, in the same manner.
Subsequent to the completion of the assessment process as determined by
the delivery of a report, the assessor should exercise caution with regard
to any exparté discussions to limit concern or advantage by one party
over the other.
Few disputes reach the level of intensity as contested custody and access disputes and few professional activities garner more complaints to professional bodies as these assessments. It is in everyone’s’ best interest to adhere to assessment processes that mitigate the perception of bias and thus maintain the integrity of the entire assessment.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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