Comment 2021: Proposed APA Guidelines for Custody Evaluations

A Working Group for the American Psychological Association has proposed Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations.

They have invited public comment

https://apps.apa.org/commentcentral2/Default.aspx?site=67

I submitted my public comment today. They allowed one general comment and five additional specific comments.

I began by conducting a review and Analysis of the proposed APA Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations. I have posted this review and Analysis to my website, as both a full and complete analysis, as well dividing the larger Analysis into each sub-section Analysis.

Childress Analysis: Full Set
Childress Analysis: Introduction
Childress Analysis: Scope (Guidelines 1-3)
Childress Analysis: Competence (Guidelines 4-6)
Childress Analysis: Preparing (Guidelines 7-10)
Childress Analysis: Conduct (Guidelines 11-23)
Childress Analysis: References
Childress Analysis: Checklist of Applied Knowledge

Here are my Comments made to the APA website inviting public comments:

General Comment:

The proposed Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Court Proceeding are substantially flawed, far more flawed than can be elaborated in the limited space provided here for Comment.  I have provided a more comprehensive Comment on the proposed Guidelines which is available publicly on my website (https://drcachildress.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Proposed-Guidelines-Custody-Evaluation-Analysis-full-set-2-1-21.pdf).

In 2018 a Petition to the APA signed by 20,000 parents was hand-submitted to the APA offices in Washington, DC asking for a redress of grievances regarding rampant and unchecked ethical violations in the practice of child custody evaluations and forensic psychology.  The APA has made no response to parents regarding their grievances.  The APA has shown complete and full contempt for the plight of parents in the family court system and the rampant unethical practices in forensic psychology surrounding child custody evaluations.  These concerns continue. 

I provide a more complete Comment on the proposed Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Child Custody Proceedings in my comprehensive commentary available publicly on my website.  In the remaining Comments here I will describe the most concerning issues.

In sum, I am concerned about possible legal liability for the APA in any potential class action lawsuit brought by parents for ongoing, rampant, and multiple violations of the APA ethics code in the practice of child custody evaluations (Standards 2.04, 2.01, 9.01, 3.04), and for negligent failure in their professional duty to protect on two separate counts, failure to protect the child from child psychological abuse, and failure to protect the targeted parent from IPV spousal abuse using the child as the weapon.  The negligent professional practice of child custody evaluators is based on their violations of Standards 2.04, 2.01, 9.01, and 3.04 of the APA ethics code and the routine failure in their duty to protect.

Analysis – References – https://drcachildress.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/apa-working-group-references-4.pdf

Comment 1:

Ethical Code Violations: Principle D Justice. The excessive cost of child custody evaluations ($20,000 – $40,000) prevents access to qualified psychological input in court cases to only the most affluent of clients, denying equal access to professional services as guaranteed by Principle D Justice of the APA ethics code. 

The lack of inter-rater reliability for child custody evaluations means that two different evaluators can reach  different conclusions and differing recommendations based on exactly the same information.  This denies equal quality of professional services as guaranteed by Principle D Justice. 

Furthermore, restricting access to child custody evaluations to only the most affluent of clients who can afford them denies equal quality in professional services as guaranteed by Principle D Justice.  The lengthy delay required to conduct child custody evaluations (typically six to nine months) and their exceedingly high cost ($20,000 – $40,000) prevents parents from obtaining a second opinion on the conclusions and recommendations.  The absence of inter-rater reliability and the failure to apply the “established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline (i.e., attachment, family systems therapy, personality disorders, complex trauma, child development, the ICD-10 and DSM-5 diagnostic systems) means that the opinions and conclusions reached may be in error, yet a second opinion confirmation is prohibited by the excessive financial cost and time required to conduct and child custody evaluation. 

The practice of child custody evaluations violates Principle D Justice on two separate and independent counts, failure to provide equal access to psychological services, failure to provide equal quality.

Comment 2:

Ethical Code Violations Standard 2.04 & Standard 9.01. Child custody evaluations do not apply the “established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline” as the bases for their professional judgements in violation of Standard 2.04 of the APA ethics code.  The “established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline” is attachment, family systems therapy, personality disorders, complex trauma, child development, and the ICD-10 and DSM-5 diagnostic systems. 

Failure to apply the “established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline” – i.e., attachment, family systems therapy, personality disorders, complex trauma, child development, ICD-10 & DSM-5 diagnostic systems) is a violation of Standard 2.04 of the APA ethics code.  Because child custody evaluators do not apply the “established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline” (in violation of Standard 2.04), their “recommendations, reports, and diagnostic or evaluative statements, including forensic testimony,” are NOT based on information “sufficient to substantiate their finding,” in violation of Standard 9.01 of the APA ethics code.

Note specifically the reference in Standard 9.01 to Standard 2.04, Bases of Scientific and Professional Judgments. The reason child custody evaluators do not apply the “established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline” (i.e., attachment, family systems therapy, personality disorders, complex trauma, child development, ICD-10 & DSM-5 diagnostic systems) is because they do not know this knowledge, in violation of Standard 2.01, Boundaries of Competence.

Comment 3:

No Inter-Rater Reliability.  If an assessment procedure is not reliable it cannot possibly be valid.  This is axiomatic in assessment.  There are four types of reliability in assessment, test-retest, alternate forms, internal consistency, inter-rater.  The appropriate reliability measure for an interview format assessment is inter-rater reliability, i.e., that two different “custody evaluators” will reach the same conclusions and recommendations based on the same information.  There is zero inter-rater reliability for child custody evaluations.  Two different evaluators can reach entirely different conclusions and recommendations based on the same information. 

If an assessment procedure is not reliable, it cannot possibly be valid.  Child custody evaluations are not a valid assessment of anything, they are simply the opinion of one person whose interpretations were influenced by both their ignorance and their cultural and personal biases.  Child custody evaluations have no inter-rater reliability, they are not a valid assessment of anything – that is an axiomatic foundational principle of assessment, if an assessment procedure is not reliable it cannot possibly be valid.

Comment 4:

Ethical Violations Standard 3.04.  In the absence of child abuse, parents have the right to parent according to their cultural values, their personal values, and their religious values.  Professional psychology should NOT intrude into that fundamental right of parenting.  Furthermore, there is no information existent in professional psychology that would allow prediction of the child’s “best interests” based on any scientific and professionally established definition and criteria – it is entirely a matter of post-hoc personal opinion made by the custody evaluator based on no scientifically defined and established criteria. 

In the absence of child abuse, parents have the right to parent according to their cultural values, their personal values, and their religious values.  If there are conflicts within the family, these are treatment-related concerns that should be addressed in a written treatment plan with specified Goals, Interventions, Outcome Measures, and Time-frames. 

In the absence of child abuse, each parent should have as much time and involvement with their child as possible.  Any recommendation other than that would harm the parent who received the restricted time by inflicting grief at the loss, and it would harm the parent by creating a damaged relationship with their child, it will also harm the child by damaging parent-child attachment bonds in restricting the child’s time and involvement with that parent.  In the absence of child abuse, harming the child’s attachment bond to their mother or father by restricting time and involvement with that parent will harm the child, will harm the parent-child attachment bond, and will harm the parent, in violation of Standard 3.04, Avoiding Harm. 

In the absence of child abuse, the ONLY ethically allowable recommendation from professional psychology is that each parent should have as much time and involvement with the child as possible.  If there is family conflict, we fix it with a written treatment plan with specified Goals, Interventions, Outcome Measures, and Time-frames.

Comment 5:

Dr. Childress Analysis of Proposed APA Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations

Analysis of: Introduction – Scope (Guidelines 1-3) – Competence (Guidelines 4-6) – Preparing (Guidelines 7-10) – Conduct (Guidelines 11-23) – References

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

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