Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct of the American Psychological Association.
Principle E: Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity
Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination. Psychologists are aware that special safeguards may be necessary to protect the rights and welfare of persons or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making.
Forensic custody reports are consistently in violation of Principle E of the APA Ethics Code on two separate counts.
Unwarranted Violation of Privacy.
Forensic custody evaluators routinely disclose entirely irrelevant personal information about the parents for public display that is unnecessary for the purpose of the evaluation and violates the parent’s privacy.
While psychologists may be permitted to disclose private and confidential information about a person for a specific purpose based on the circumstances and appropriate releases for the information, psychologists may only disclose as much personal and private information about the person as is necessary for the purpose of the disclosure.
Psychologists are ethically obligated to respect the dignity and the right to privacy of the parents, if a disclosure of personal and private information disclosed about one spouse-and-parent in reporting by the spouse-and-parent is not relevant to the purpose of the evaluation, then the individual’s right to privacy needs to be respected.
The disclosure of personal and private information about an individual that is irrelevant to decision-making is not warranted, rights to personal privacy need to be respected.
2) Violation of parent’s right to self-determination.
The recommendations made by forensic custody evaluators routinely violate the parent’s right to self-determination by restricting a parent’s access to their own child for reasons other than child protection.
In the absence of child abuse, parents have the right to parent according to their cultural values, their personal values, and their religious values. Psychologists should not violate these fundamental parent rights to self-determination regarding their families and children.
In the absence of child abuse, each parent should have as much time and involvement with the child as possible. To restrict either parent’s time and involvement with their child for any reason other than child abuse, would harm the parent, would harm the child’s attachment bond to the parent, and would harm the child, in violation of Standard 3.04 Avoiding Harm of the APA Ethics Code.
The only ethical recommendation allowed for child custody is that, in the absence of child abuse, each parent should have as much time and involvement with the child as possible.
When possible child abuse is a considered diagnosis, our diagnosis must be accurate 100% of the time. The consequences of misdiagnosing child abuse are too severe and destructive for the child.
The only relevant consideration is whether there child abuse, in which case we always protect the child.
A proper risk assessment for possible child abuse needs to be conducted and the outcome reported. Diagnosis guides treatment. In healthcare, the treatment for cancer is different than the treatment for diabetes – diagnosis guides treatment – and the treatment for child abuse is always to protect the child.
Is there child abuse? That is the relevant consideration to be answered.
A proper risk assessment for possible child abuse needs to be conducted to reach an accurate diagnosis to guide decision-making surrounding the child.
Forensic psychologists do not conduct a risk assessment for possible child abuse. Their recommendations to restrict a parent’s time and involvement with their child are for reasons other than a child abuse diagnosis and child protection, and the recommendations of forensic custody evaluators violate the parent’s right to self-determination in having access to and parenting their own child.
Special Population & Special Safeguards
Parents in the family courts represent a “special population” because of their compromised autonomy in decision-making about their lives as a result of the court’s involvement.
Special safeguards are necessary to protect the rights and welfare of parents involved in the family courts whose vulnerabilities from their family conflict being litigated in the courts impairs their autonomous decision making regarding their children and family.
A necessary safeguard to protect these court-involved families is requiring identified specialized professional knowledge in several directly relevant domains of professional knowledge which would be required for ethically competent practice with court-involved family conflict:
Attachment – Bowlby and others
Family systems therapy – Minuchin and others
Personality disorders – Beck and others
Complex trauma – van der Kolk and others
Child development – Tronick and others
ICD-10 & DSM-5 diagnostic systems
Parents in the family courts represent a “special population” who warrant special safeguards from the application of specialized advanced professional knowledge from psychology because of compromised autonomy of these parents in decision-making surrounding their children and families as a result of the court’s involvement in their family conflict.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, CA PSY 188578