Assessments in the Child and Family Courts

Man holding daughter at the beach in family case

Under the umbrella of the family Courts, there are numerous types of child and family assessments that a psychologist may carry out:

Parental Assessments and Developmental Trauma

A robust psychological assessment of parenting should concisely identify the areas of parental difficulty and the root cause of these problems to target interventions within the timescales available to the child. It should also make clear the likely effectiveness of any psychological intervention to achieve permanency for the child as quickly as possible.


Parenting and Developmental Trauma

The rising tide of research into adverse childhood experiences highlight the significant long-term negative impact that this can have on a child’s physical, cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural development. There are also emergent links between developmental trauma and parental risks including attachment difficulties, substance misuse, mental health and abusive relationship. A clear psychological understanding of a parent’s own developmental difficulties can target interventions to reduce the risk of the trans-generational cycle of maltreatment.


Assessments of Attachment

Traumatic or persistent negative experiences mould both child and adult approaches to communication and safety. Attachment-based parental risk assessments make clear the links between a parent’s attachment in childhood and their capacity to parent. Sensitively attuned parenting does not just describe the quality of care but can also predict parental protectiveness and parental safety. Psychological assessments of attachment can be based on direct observation of the parent-child relationship, the parent’s mental representation of the child and the child’s own thinking about their care. Psychological assessments such as the CARE-Index, Child Attachment Interview and Story Stem can provide the court with reliable evidence-based information on which to base decisions about a child’s needs.


Parental Mental Health, Substance Misuse & Relationships

Parental mental health, together with substance misuse and abusive relationships, form a trilogy of the strongest predictors of child maltreatment. However, it is the complex interplay between multiple parenting difficulties that can really help us understand the risks to a child. This needs to be balanced against the individual strengths and supportive social and professional networks to assess a child’s safety.


Developmental and Educational Assessments

Developmental assessments map a child’s performance in comparison with children of similar age. An educational psychologist will identify a child’s challenges in a range of developmental domains including cognitive, emotional, social, and adaptive behaviours, such as self-care and independence in everyday tasks. Where maltreatment is a concern, the causality of these weaknesses will be explored in order to formulate a wider picture of the child’s environment. Cognitive and neuropsychological assessments are utilised in situations where difficulties could potentially be due to intellectual disability or learning problems.


Fostering and Adoption

Psychological assessments are valuable at every step in the care pathway. Assessments of the foster and adoptive placements can provide valuable insights into the strengths and difficulties between a child and their new carers. Psychologists work extensively with adoptive parents to help the child adapt and integrate with their new family.


Together or Apart Assessments

Understanding the attachment relationship between siblings can speed-up decisions about the needs of each child in a family and whether they should be placed together or apart. It’s important that we get this right, as decisions about the sibling relationship are a key factors in placement breakdown. Structured assessment of the attachment between each child can increase the long-term success of looked after care.


Complex Global Family Assessments

Research suggests that around 2% of families in England experience multiple and complex parenting difficulties. Such problems are often seen to be inter-generational – they are likely to impact significantly on the life trajectories of children in a cyclical nature. Stopping this loop of behaviour is the key to a number of improvements in social health.

Global family assessments can offer a cohesive understanding of any parenting difficulties, the child(ren)’s needs but also a the broader network of support within the extended family. This can offer clear pathways for intervention and change. Having one expert work with all family members, they will be able to develop a more integrated understanding of the larger picture.


Therapeutic Interventions

Chartered Psychologists are trained in diverse interventions for trauma, adjustment disorder, stress, and associated diagnoses. Our experts offer both short-term evidence-based interventions such as EMDR, trauma-focused CBT (TF-CBT), as well as longer-term interventions. Psychologists are also trained to evaluate the outcome of their intervention, providing clear outcome and prognosis reports at the end of each intervention.


Capacity for Change

Psychologists work with parents both in the courts and in therapy and have a clear understanding of a parent’s capacity and motivation for change not just during proceedings but throughout a child’s minority. Change is a complex process, and although it can be supported and promoted through effective interventions, it cannot be enforced. A psychologist’s report on a parent’s capacity for change will provide insight on whether the individual has the skills, motivation and engagement to overcome their current state. Interventions designed to increase parenting skills can have a positive impact on other problems by increasing self-efficacy and self-esteem.


We have experts trained in a range of specialisms, with many having extensive experience with children and families. Click here to view our family expert witness psychologists.

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