Custody and Access Assessment Reports

Views of the Child Assessment Reports

Family Relations Act: Section 15

What is a child custody and access evaluation?

At times divorcing or separating parents cannot agree on the custody of their children and or visitation (access) arrangements. This can become a very difficult and conflictual situation requiring the Court to step in and to make a decision. The Court may need more information about the parents and their children and order under the Family Relations Act, section 15, a child custody and access assessment. This assessment is an investigation to evaluate the needs of the children and provide information on the parent’s ability to fulfill their needs.

Of note: the Family Relation Act deems the “best interest of the child are paramount” as a guiding principle concerning custody and assess Court decision. This means, the needs of a child is given greater consideration over the rights and wants of the parent. For example if a custodial parent wants to move to a different city for a better job and moving the children will result in fewer visits with the non-custodial parent. The Court may rule against the custodial parent’s desire to move because of the needs of children to have frequent and consistent visits with the noncustodial parent.

A custody and access evaluation gathers information and the “best interest of the child” influences the procedures and report.

A custody and access report is generally order by the Court and this is my preferred referral, however, parents may request my services.

If there are presenting issues such as domestic violence or child abuse allegations, I will need to contact the various agencies involved such as the RCMP or the Ministry of Children and Family Development to gather information. This will likely extend the assessment time and cost.

How do I conduct a custody and access evaluation conducted?

The evaluation process requires the gathering of information and I do this by conducting a series of interviews with all family members and various people connected with the family.

· Each parent is interviewed separately to gather information such as personal history, parenting style, past and present relationship with the other parent, hopes and plans for the future. There will be a minimum of two interviews requiring approximately 4 hours. I prefer to do the interview in the home of the parent but my office is available for use.

· Each child is interviewed separately, depending on their age and comfort level. There will be at least 2 interviews requiring 2-4 hours.

· The children and parents are observed together for the purpose of assessing the quality of their relationship. This most often happens in the home, but not always. There will be a minimum of one session but there could be more. This will take at least 2 hours.

· People are interviews who are connected and have knowledge of the family. This would include teachers, daycare workers, friends and a family doctor. The parents can make personal references for people they would like to contribute.

· Review papers and documents such as school report cards and court papers.

· Review any other forms of information contributing to the assessment

This is a very personal, evasive process into the private life of the parents and their children. The information gathered is fully disclosed to the Court, the lawyers and the parents. I take great care to make this process as comfortable as possible, but it is an emotional stressful process. And it should be, as your parenting ability is being scrutinized and the assessment findings may have significant influence on the Court’s decision.

There are a several areas of interest I focus upon in my evaluation

· Health and normative development of the child

· Child’s school and academic performance

· Child’s social skill achievement, i.e. does the child have friends and maintain them

· Views and needs of the child

· Parents skills and knowledge in parenting their child

· Strength of attachment and bond with the child

· Parents wellbeing and this include issues such as drug and alcohol use and emotional health

· Views and needs of the parent

· Relationship dynamics between the parents such as the ability to coordinate parenting duties

The Custody and Access Report?

The report I write is between 8 to 12 pages and takes approximately 10 hours to write. My approach is to draw on my own direct observations, information gathered from the various interviews and a review of all documents. I do make recommendations based on the information gathered and my own professional knowledge and experience. Upon completion of the Report, I meet with each parent and review the report and my findings. This is an opportunity to discuss the reports. I am open to hear the parents’ opinion which may include disagreements with my findings.

My hope is the report will assist the Court, and equally important, the parents will find the report provides useful information and recommendations to assist them in resolving their custody and access difficulties.

The parents, lawyers and the Courts are each given a copy to review.

This process takes approximately 30 hours: 20 hours for the interviews and review of the material and 10 hours to write the report.

How much will this cost?

My cost is approximately 2500.00 dollars for the assessment and the written report. I prefer to be paid in advance, but I will take a 50% retainer and the remaining 50% to be paid when I start to write the report.

This cost does not include court testimony: My fee is 75.00 an hour for this service.

Experience, Knowledge and Skills

Qualifications:

The Family Relation Act, identifies and qualities a “Expert witnesses in family matters” in section 15 (1) (a) has had no previous connection with the parties to the proceeding or to whom each party consents, and

(b) is a family counsellor, social worker or other person approved by the court for the purpose

The following is a brief outline of my qualifications, skills and knowledge base.

Education

Master and Bachelor Degree in Child and Youth Care University of Victoria

The Child and Youth Care program specializes in assessment, education and skills acquisition for working with family, youth and children in a variety of capacities.

· Family System Theories

· Counselling and Communication Skills

· Legal and Ethics Training

· Assessment, treatment planning and implementation

· Parenting skills and capacities

· Child normative development and attachment needs

· Master Thesis’s focused on domestic violence, treatment and assessment

Family Counselling Experience

I have been providing services for families, youth, children, couples and individuals since 1992. The focus of my counselling career has been with “high risk families” often with child protection issues.

· Assessment of family functioning, parenting capacity and parent-child relationship

· Assessment of the children’s normative development and needs

· Report writing using evidence based information

· Recommendations on the implementation of treatment intervention

· Supervision, observation and support of parents and children

· Providing counselling, psycho-education instruction and life skills

Child Protection Social Worker

· Duties focused on investigation and assessment in respond to reports of child abuse.

· Objective, clinical observation skills for the assessments of family, parent and child dynamics

· Documentation and evidence based report writing

· Application to the court for orders and providing professional testimony

Skills, Knowledge and Ability

My work with “high risk” families has garnered the experience of managing highly adversarial, conflicted families. Not easy. I am familiar with many of the attributes resulting in interpersonal, entrenched and ongoing conflicts:

· Loss and hurt, unresolved grief issues

· Fear and anxiety resulting from separation and divorce

· Anger, frustration and feelings of betrayal

· Entrenched and armoured personal temperaments

· Mental health issues such as borderline, narcissist personality disorder

· Drug and alcohol abuse-addiction

I have acquired and developed the skills of diplomatic relationship building, communication skills and the ability to deescalate emotional charged interpersonal dynamics.

Justice Institute of British Columbia

I am a candidate for the JI’s Family Meditation Certification and I have completed several courses pertaining to Court procedures and C & A Reports.

In particular: FAM 201: Custody and Assess Assessment Report Writing. Final mark 97.3

(FAM 201 is a required course for BC Family Justice Workers to perform assessments and write C&A Reports)

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