Clinical assessment of parents in child protection cases: an empirical analysis

Law Hum Behav. 2001 Feb;25(1):93-108. doi: 10.1023/a:1005696026973.


We investigated the content and legal relevance of clinical evaluations of parents conducted in child abuse and neglect cases. The sample consisted of 190 mental health evaluation reports, randomly selected from major providers, that had been completed on parents involved in a large, urban juvenile court system. We coded evaluations on 170 objective and qualitative characteristics in order to assess for criteria recommended in the forensic literature. We compared evaluations across groups categorized by type (e.g., psychological, psychiatric, bonding/parenting, substance abuse) and where the assessments were performed (outside or inside the court). We found numerous substantive failures to meet those criteria for forensic relevance. Evaluations of parents typically were completed in a single session, rarely included a home visit, used few if any sources of information other than the parent, often cited no previous written reports, rarely used behavioral methods, stated purposes in general rather than specific terms, emphasized weaknesses over strengths in reporting results, and often neglected to describe the parent's caregiving qualities or the child's relationship with the parent. Some relevant differences were evident across assessment groups, pointing to examples of more thorough, parenting-specific evaluation practices. We recommend ways to improve current practices in forensic parenting assessment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chicago
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Child Abuse / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child Abuse / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Forensic Psychiatry / methods*
  • Forensic Psychiatry / standards
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parents* / psychology*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Risk Assessment / methods