Legal Cases

If you are looking for clinicians to help in your legal cases you ought to find clinicians who are specially trained and experienced in legal work.  These clinicians can be found in the Kid Catch directory by searching under the term “Forensics.”

Parents and attorneys ought to be warned that many clinicians do not want to be involved in legal cases.  When you are looking for clinicians to help in your legal cases you need to disclose that up front.  Waiting to tell clinicians about your legal cases after your children are already involved with clinicians is disrespectful towards the clinicians and can backfire.  When clinicians are subpoenaed to appear in court for cases they do not want to be involved with, this is not likely to help your case.

How Does Legal Work Differ from Clinical Work?

The forensic evaluation of children and adolescents varies from a clinical assessment in several ways. One of the main differences is that the forensic evaluator’s duty is to the person, court or agency requesting the evaluation, rather than to the child or adolescent being evaluated.  The purpose of the evaluation is to resolve a legal dispute, not to render treatment. Thus, there is no therapeutic relationship established with the individual being evaluated in a forensic assessment.  Forensic evaluations may be conducted by child mental health professionals across several disciplines, such as Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), psychologists (PhD), and psychiatrists (MD).

Common Types of Child Forensic Evaluations

Child Custody- If parents are unable to agree on a co-parenting plan, a child custody evaluation assists the court on making decisions regarding custody, visitation and parenting time arrangements. The evaluator should have an understanding of family relationships, interpersonal dynamics, developmental issues, and should be familiar with family law in the local jurisdiction. The purpose of the child custody evaluation is to determine what is in the best interests of the children. This is defined as the rendering of decisions to fulfill the basic and developmental needs of the children.

Child Maltreatment- In cases of abuse and neglect, the mental health evaluators often work in collaboration with a team to best assist the court in determining what happened to children, make recommendations regarding placement or treatment, or offering an opinion on termination of parental rights.

Personal Injury- In cases of personal injury lawsuits, the forensic evaluator’s role is not to assess liability, but to assess for damages children may have suffered. This involves having knowledge about how an injury may have short and long-term consequences, if children are suffering from mental disorders, and if the alleged injury or incident contributed to the current condition. In addition, the evaluator assesses the mental health and development of children prior to the injuries, and may give an opinion of the children’s treatment needs and prognosis.

Juvenile Justice- Juvenile courts are focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment, and helping the children and adolescents in its system. A forensic evaluator may be needed to consult regarding competency to understand Miranda rights and to stand trial, evaluation for a waiver or transfer hearings, and evaluations for whether children should remain in a facility or can return home while awaiting adjudication. Forensic evaluators should consider children’s treatment needs and the need for a restrictive setting that protects both the youths and the community.

Overview of the Differences between Forensic and Clinical Psychiatric Evaluations

Purpose- The purpose of a forensic evaluation is to answer a legal question, whereas the purpose of a clinical evaluation is to make a diagnosis and treatment plan with the intent of relieving suffering.

Relationship- In a clinical evaluation there is a doctor-patient relationship that is entered into which is not present in forensic evaluations.

Client- In a forensic evaluation the client is the court, attorney or retaining agency, while in a clinical assessment the client is the patient.

Agency- The forensic evaluator has a fiduciary duty to the retaining agency, while the clinical evaluator has a fiduciary duty to the patient’s best interests.

Objective- Forensic evaluations produce a report or testimony, whereas clinical assessments help heal the patient.

Privacy- Confidentiality applies in clinical cases, but not in forensic cases. The forensic evaluator must clarify this at the start of the evaluation.

Process- The goal of a forensic evaluation is to conduct an objective evaluation, while the goal of a clinical assessment is to establish a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Treatment- Treatment may be recommended, but is not rendered during forensic evaluations while treatment is an essential part of a clinical assessment.

Bias- The forensic evaluator should not have an investment in the outcome of their assessment, whereas there is often a therapeutic bias and the desire for a patient to get better during clinical encounters.

This page was last edited September 11, 2019.