Friday, September 18, 2009

Evaluations must have a purpose and scope

The Santa Cruz family uses a boilerplate form for child custody and psychological evaluations. You can read it in pdf here. This form was written in response to California Rule 5.220(d)(1)(B)(ii) which requires that any such order must specify the “purpose and scope of the evaluation”.

I think that it is plainly obvious that this form, with checked checkboxes, does not specify the purpose and scope. But I have trouble making this point to otherwise intelligent folks. They say that "purpose and scope" is in a header, so it must satisfy the rule.

The problems become more apparent if you try to look at what a psychologist would actually have to do in order to carry out this order. Consider this clause:
The recommendations resulting from the assessment/evaluation shall address ... Legal Custody, may include division of authority for decision making
Now imagine that you are a psychologist with training in diagnosing and treating psychological disorders, but you have no training in the law. You interview the parents and kids, and you find that none of them have any disorders that you can see. Now you need to give a legal conclusion about what the legal rights of the parents ought to be.

How would you do it? What evidence would you consider? What legal principles would you apply? Why would you do it?

Even the world's smartest judge and legal scholar could not cope with such an order. He would have to know the allegations and the legal standards. He would have to have a procedure for resolving factual disputes, such as a jury trial. He would need some direction about what he is supposed to do, and how he is supposed to do it.

But the forensic psychologists have none of that. It is a bit like calling a plumber and asking him if you should drink more water or get more exercise. The plumber can fix your leaky faucet and he may have an opinion about drinking water, but he is not going to tell you how much water to drink. That is not his expertise. And even if it were, he could help you without knowing more about why you are asking.

I am not being allowed to see my kids until I get a psychologist to do an evaluation according to this boilerplate form. But I take the order to experienced psychologists who have done hundreds of evaluations, and none of them has been able to make any sense out of what they are supposed to do. They complain that they do not know why the order was given. So the inadequacy of this form is a direct impediment to me seeing my kids.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you can probably figure out the purpose of the order. If so, then you will understand why the court would never put that purpose in writing, even tho the rules require it.

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