Child Custody Evaluations In the Era Of The Pandemic



On Wednesday, August 26, 2020, 6:22 AM, Ken Pope <ken@kenpope.com> wrote:Psychology, Public Policy, and Law has scheduled an article for publication in a future issue of the journal: “Making the Case for Videoconferencing and Remote Child Custody Evaluations (RCCES): The Empirical, Ethical, and Evidentiary Arguments for Accepting New Technology.”
The authors are Milfred D. Dale & Desiree Smith.
Here’s how it opens:

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the child custody evaluation (CCE) community has been astounding and immediate. In March, April, and May of 2020, state and local governments and courts began issuing safe-at-home and social distancing proclamations. Provision of in-person mental health services was discouraged as unsafe (Chenneville & Schwartz-Mette, 2020). These pronouncements required evaluators to quickly learn what technology could be used and how to use it to finish incomplete evaluations or meet the demands of court orders for new evaluations. While the capability of providing behavioral health services with telecommunication technologies has been extended to virtually all clinical aspects of behavioral and mental health practice, such as assessment, consultation, psychoeducation, and treatment (Luxton, Nelson, & Maheu, 2016), utilizing these technologies in parenting plan evaluations had not been a serious topic prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. That has changed. This article examines the feasibility of remote child custody evaluations (RCCEs) both during the pandemic and beyond.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed an entire professional community to consider whether videoconferencing (VC) can be paired with custody methods and procedures to produce valid, reliable, and trustworthy results. For each component methodology of a comprehensive CCE that would usually require in-person contact, the best practices for using VC and the available empirical research are used to illustrate when VC is acceptable and when it is not. In a completely remote CCE, VC is used to conduct interviews of the adults and children, to conduct psychological testing (to the extent possible), and to conduct parent–child observations. RCCEs retain elements of in-person CCEs such as document retrieval and review and contacts with third-party collaterals—usually by telephone. In order to conduct an RCCE, an evaluator must be competent in both VC use in a professional relationship and in the methodological demands of properly conducting a CCE. However, not every task can be delivered via VC, not every case is appropriate for remote evaluation, not every party or child will agree to using the technology, and not every evaluator will embrace this new approach. Yet progress in a professional specialty like child custody, that looks to science for guidance, is often about generalizations where conclusions obtained in a laboratory or slightly alternative setting are developed, then transported and applied elsewhere in environments that may differ from that in the laboratory or alternative setting (Pearl & Bareinboim, 2014). This is an opportunity to do just that.
This effort is not an attempt to fundamentally alter current CCE processes but to extrapolate and accept the lessons learned about VC use in other areas of psychology in the CCE context. Using VC can enable RCCEs to be viewed as an alternative with an array of possible applications, including situations where COVID-19 or other issues require social distancing, as well as situations where other factors (e.g., access to justice, financial considerations, and resource availability) otherwise limit the choices available to families and the court. It is also possible that a family could choose to have their evaluation conducted remotely using VC for reasons entirely their own.
These issues are of interest to evaluators making decisions about whether to use VC and to conduct RCCEs. These issues are of interest to attorneys as they advise and represent their clients in various contexts including but not limited to litigation. These issues are also of interest to courts and judges who must decide whether an RCCE will help the court, under what circumstances this approach may or may not work, and how to weigh the data generated via VC. Finally, these issues are also of interest to the parties—and ultimately their children—as they weigh the considerations and factors associated with various dispute resolution alternatives and, when necessary, their access to the authority of the court for problem solving.

Here’s the abstract: “The COVID-19 pandemic and its requirements for social distancing and limited, if any, in-person contact have forced the child custody community to consider remote child custody evaluations (RCCEs) conducted through videoconferencing. CCEs are perhaps the most complex of all forensic evaluations, requiring complex, multifaceted assessments of multiple parties and their relationships in order to address the best interests of the child. Attempting these evaluations via videoconferencing should be done carefully and only after consideration of numerous factors, including whether this alternative can be safely and reliably accomplished. This article outlines the conceptual approach used by the child custody community for determining the foci of the evaluation, tailoring data collection via multiple methodologies, and analyzing the data. The article reviews the empirical literature demonstrating that professional relationships and various clinical and forensic processes have reliably and successfully used videoconferencing with adults, children, and different clinical and forensic populations. The article also outlines how evaluators conducting RCCEs must comply with the ethical demands of their discipline or profession, as well as ethical demands unique to remote service delivery. Finally, the article addresses how evaluators can prepare for challenges to their work that are based upon the standards for admissibility of expert witnesstestimony. The limitations of videoconferencing, including limitations specific to the demands of RCCEs, are also reviewed.”
Here’s the concluding passage: “This article details the growth of the telemedicine and telemental health communities over the past 10 to 15 years from an alternative to reach underserved populations to an alternative within the mainstream mental health professions. This growth is mainly a story of successful applications across people of different ages, different clinical and forensic populations, and different clinical and forensic tasks. In the absence of a vaccine for COVID-19, it is difficult to think of safe mental health service delivery without accommodations. Properly conducted RCCE may be a necessary safe substitute for in-person processes. There are limitations and situations where VC may not be a safe alternative, but the child custody community—for example, courts, attorneys, evaluators, and families—should accept RCCEs as a valid alternative that, when properly done, can help resolve custody disputes.”

TO OBTAIN A COPY OF THE ARTICLE: Contact info for reprint requests and questions or other correspondence about this article: drbuddale@outlook.com 

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