ASSESSMENT OF CHILDREN’S NEEDS IN A PARENTING ASSESSMENT
WHAT IS A CUSTODY/PARENTING ASSESSMENT?
Fong Ailon has a long history of expert witness testimony in this area and are leaders in the field in assessments. Sometimes called a Practice Note 8, these comprehensive bilateral custody/access assessments provide information and recommendations about the family to assist the Court in reaching a decision that will be in the best interests of the child. The following procedures are designed to provide an objective assessment of the “fit” between parents and child – the balance between each parent’s functional abilities and the individual needs of the child. This determination is made through information gathered from many sources and by a variety of methods, in different situations. The data is limited to a description of the current functioning of parent and child. Data is gathered from clinical interviews, direct observation of parent-child interaction, results of standardized psychological tests, collateral interviews and review of court documents. A custody assessment is not like an assessment for therapy, and should meet the requirements for expert witness testimony. Assessors use the most current state-of-the-art research in their recommendations.
CONTRACTING WITH THE PARTIES
Any agreement by the parents, or Court order for a child custody/access assessment must be established prior to the evaluation. In this contract, the purpose and method of the assessment, as well as provisions for payments of services are delineated. This is usually called a Retainer/Informed Consent Agreement.
THE INITIAL INTERVIEW
The aim of the interview is to:
• clarify and sign documents for release of information
• clarify the purpose of the assessment/informed consent
• clarify the assessor’s role and procedure (clinical interview process and explanation of test batteries)
• obtain the list of collateral sources, and a parenting plan
• clarify the evaluation’s contents, including limits of confidentiality, and completion time
• establish an assessment schedule.
Parent evaluations are conducted individually over several sessions in which data is collected on the parent’s family history, the relationship with former spouse or new partner, concerns regarding custody and visitation
issues, and practical concerns regarding the child. Objective psychological tests related to personality and parenting are administered.
Clinical interviews and standardized psychological testing form the basis of the parent evaluation.
The goal of the evaluation is to obtain information regarding the child’s developmental needs, perceptions of the child, and the child’s attachment to each parent. This is accomplished through clinical interviews and administration of standardized age-appropriate psychological assessment techniques. The child will also be observed interacting with each parent (and other caretakers), according to the assessment schedule.
The home visit, which may be part of the assessment process, offers an on-site perspective of the home environment, and gives an opportunity for observation of the child in a more natural setting. The home visit is arranged according to the assessment schedule. The structured observational format in each home visit requires at least one hour. Specific activities carried out by each parent and child provide information about parental competencies and parent-child interaction.
Collateral data about both parents and child are collected from other sources that may include: teachers, therapists, physicians, coworkers, neighbors, significant others, coaches, or others who may interact with the parent or child in a professional or an informal manner.
This report is intended to give the Court and legal counsel information about how the child’s needs can best be addressed through a parenting plan. Criteria in making custody/access recommendations are based on psychological and practical factors.
Why is a child custody/access assessment needed?
A comprehensive bilateral child custody/access assessment is needed when parents of the children are not able to resolve the dispute concerning a parenting arrangement through other conflict-resolution formats (for example, mediation). In Alberta, it is ordered in Queen’s Bench by a Judge under Rules of Court, a Practice Note or through a Provincial Court Order.
Who is involved in a child custody/access assessment?
Bilateral child custody/access assessments are carried out at the direction of either the court or legal counsel. Many times it is ordered by the Judge, whereby the assessor is the Court’s witness. In the majority of cases, the biological parents and their children are the primary subjects of the assessment. In specific cases, other significant adults may also be included.
Fong Ailon have extensive national and international expertise in the area of child custody/access assessments. They have considerable experience as psychological practitioners. Consulting with children of all ages, they have expertise in assessing children’s developmental needs, and have strong backgrounds in assessment of parental competencies. All have extensive expert witness testimony experience in Provincial Court and Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta or in other Canadian jurisdictions. They have a history of training other professionals in other international countries in their area of expertise.
The firm of Fong Ailon provides secure on-site computerized testing, thereby increasing reliability of psychological findings, which is significant in court testimony.