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One of the many areas in which practising Clinical or Forensic psychologists are asked to contribute is when they are tasked with providing an assessment of the level of risk a parent may pose to a child. The 1995 British Psychological Society survey of legal reports suggests that nearly half (47%) of all such assessments are childcare related (Gudjonsson, 1996). Such risk assessments occur in child custody issues and in situations where children have been placed in care by an outside agency such as Social Services. Removal of the child from the family or the issuing of care orders is often due to suspected child abuse or neglect, or in cases where Social Services have been asked by the parent to accommodate the child because the parent cannot cope with the child.

The eventual aim, where possible, of any such process is the successful return and rehabilitation of the child to the parent/s or caregiver. The prime concern is always the child's welfare. It is within this context that a forensic psychological risk assessment is commissioned. The psychologist is often asked to provide information about the parents' psychological ability to care for their children in terms of their level of intellectual functioning and the personality characteristics of the parent and how they may impact on the parents' ability to be effective.

At Midlands Psychological Services we have a long history of providing such reports to the Midlands area. In the past three years alone, such reports have constituted nearly 80% of the legal reports we have written. Whilst some of those have been focussed on child custody issues, the vast majority have been in cases were the children have been accommodated by the Local Authority due to allegations of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, or child neglect.

Our assessments typically follow a simple dictum – we act entirely as a Friend of the Court. As such our focus is the child and the child’s protection. We will interview the parents, read all the documentation and get other information from Guardian ad Litems and the Social Workers involved in the case.

At the end of our reports we may make a number of different recommendations to the Court based on the assessment. We might, for instance recommend that a couple undergo further assessment in a residential parenting centre or we might recommend a period of therapy before consideration is given for the child to be returned. In extreme cases we may also recommend long-term foster care of the child or even adoption. We have defended our reports in court and are willing to liaise with the Local Authority after the assessment is completed to ensure that our recommendations and any concerns we may have are fully understood.