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Parenting Capacity Assessments Assessed

September 11, 2012 permalink

Fixcas recently found a report titled The Value of Court-Ordered Assessments in the Child Welfare Process (pdf) by Nicholas Bala and Alan Leschied. A quick scan shows that it has nine occurrences of mother and no occurrences of father. Ordinarily fixcas dismisses child care reports without references to both mother and father as bureaucratic drivel, but since this report deals specifically with Ontario, here is a closer look.

On page seven we find a list of persons canvassed and surveyed for the report:

  • judges of the Ontario Court of Justice and the Ontario Superior Court;
  • lawyers for parents;
  • lawyers on the panel of the Office of the Children’s Lawyer;
  • senior counsel for all Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario;
  • Directors of Service for all Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario;
  • assessors and Family Court Clinic staff members.

On page nine additional opinions were solicited from:

  • Ontario College of Psychologists
  • Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers
  • Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons
  • Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies
  • Child Welfare League of Canada
  • Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

All are parties who gain financially from the current child protection system. There are no contributions from the persons directly affected: parents and children.

On page ten the report asserts:

First and foremost, s. 54 assessments provide the court with independent expert evidence from a qualified professional about the child and/or parents or potential caregivers that is not otherwise available from the parties. Both the independence and the expertise of assessors are essential.

There is nothing in the report to show, either through citation or argument, that the evaluators really have independence and expertise. It is just assumed.

Page twelve deals with criticisms of assessments:

Some of the common criticisms of child welfare assessments include: depending on office observations to assess parent-child interactions and not visiting the home; depending upon a parent’s self-report of their behaviours and not utilizing collateral sources for information; basing findings on single-session parental observations; and not using some form of standardized behavioural observation techniques.

The paragraph above omits the most serious criticism: bias. Assessments are typically done by mental health professionals who have retired from normal practice with patients and rely on assessment fees for their livelihood. It is obvious to them, and to outside observers, that the child protection agencies will stop sending them cases if they recommend returning children to their parents. So they develop assessment methodologies that fail just about everyone. Three earlier articles give examples of assessor bias in Britain: [1] [2] [3].

In view of the failure to consult with the persons primarily affected, parents and children, and failure to deal with the biggest problem with assessments, bias, the fifteen recommendations by Bala and Leschied should be treated, not as ways to improve the welfare of children, but as advocacy for the professionals involved in the child protection process.