From the Perspective of a Forensic Psychologist

A court-ordered psychological evaluation is for high-risk families dealing with very complex issues. It’s focused on the child’s needs above all else. The referral to a forensic psychologist comes from the judge to assist the court.

The Shortest Line funds the $4000 evaluation, which these working poor families can’t afford.

Why an evaluation? Well, parents know their story inside and out. And they tell that story to the judge. But the court only has 1-2 days at trial to hear the story and determine the facts. A psychological evaluation helps flush out that history so the judge can make a decision in the best interest of the child.

Parents come in for an appointment and I talk with them for about two hours. They share their life history and backgrounds. Who is seeking custody? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each parent? I ask them to talk about their kids. Their concerns about being parents.

I do psych testing after the two-hour meeting – a sophisticated test that determines psychological functioning and symptoms for mental health issues. It also determines personality traits, and how these traits impact parenting skills. These tests also help us learn about their reading level.

Other tests are case specific. Is there a physical or sexual risk to the child?

Subsequent meetings are held with the parent and the child and other significant persons in their lives. And we talk to the kids and watch how they interact with each parent. We look at their day-to-day lives. What are the rules in the households? Who breaks the rules? Do kids have friends over to the house? Are kids in school? Are there any medical problems? Are parents in therapy?

We also review school records, police reports, no contact orders – everything that will increase the insight of the judge and help the court make the best decisions.

These evaluations normally take a minimum of 90 days.

These cases are emotional because they involve children. But parents often need – and frankly deserve – the time to be heard.

Recommendations could be sole custody with supervised visits. How often a parent may see the child. Should they spend a summer vacation with the parent or not? That’s physical custody. Then there’s legal custody. Do parents get joint legal custody? Should parents attend parenting classes? Get therapy for mental issues, or drug and alcohol abuse?

A psychological evaluation – funded by The Shortest Line — gives the judge a complete picture of what is going on within the family. Now she can make the best decision for the family and the child.