Child Evaluations in Abuse, Neglect & Dependency Cases
Summary of Different Types of Evaluations
I. Traditional Mental Health Evaluations
a. Purpose is to identify significant psychological or cognitive
b. Potential issue: while oftentimes helpful, concern of “labeling or
pigeon-holing” a child based on an early or single evaluation.
II. Developmental Evaluations
a. Purpose is to identify developmental delays or irregularities in
young children (infant to 4 yrs.)
b. Important to screen young children under juvenile court jurisdiction
for developmental delays as neglect can increase the likelihood of a
developmental delay and appropriate treatment can bring a child
back on track.
III. Parent-Child Attachment Evaluations
a. Assess the quality and security of the attachment relationship
b. These may be done with biological parents or potential permanent
caretakers to assist with determining the appropriate permanent
plan for a child.
IV. Child Forensic Evaluations
a. Assess maltreatment evaluations
b. Typically done pre-adjudication if alleged maltreatment the basis for
petition, but maltreatment can also occur when the court is
V. Juvenile Sex Offender Evaluations
a. Assess for psycho-sexual abnormalities or pathology
b. Usually seen in juvenile delinquency context, but may be ordered in
abuse, neglect, dependency case if a child is an alleged perpetrator
and the court wants to evaluate and treat the child.
VI. Child/Family Evaluation Program
a. Replaces Child Mental Health Evaluation formerly called Child
b. Purpose is to assist CPS in decision making but ultimately assist
the court and child’s advocate as well.
Key Components to Child Evaluation
o Primary step in conducting evaluations is shaping the referral
question to assure that the court receives useful information and
that the child client receives appropriate treatment based on the
o What are the clinical issues giving rise to the request? Need details
and stated concerns
o Want to give context for the referral—not just basic “need for
o Ex: Given the conflict in the home and the child’s disruptive
behavior in school, what are the child’s mental health treatment
needs and why?
o Importance of multiple sources including records, clinical interviews
with the child and family, collateral interviews, parent-child
observations if appropriate, and administration of psychological
o Review of records gives multiple perspectives and provides an
historical view of the case. Patterns may be seen over time.
o Multiple interviews with child and family can be helpful since
individuals may present differently over time and allows rapport to
be built with evaluator/clinician
o Collateral contacts provide a different perspective of the child and
family. Collaterals should include those with independent
relationships outside of the legal situation and other mental health
professional if applicable.
Presentation of Data
o Evaluator or clinician should keep in mind that they are not
preparing the report for other mental health professionals.
o Behavior of child and family should be placed in broader context,
including family and environmental system.
o Direct quotes from children and family if appropriate gives the court
and attorneys an accurate sense of the person’s opinions and
thoughts and gives “voice” to the individual.
o Clinical opinions and conclusions need to be clearly support and
explained with specific data contained in the body of the report.
o Conclusions which are clearly explained and well-supported
provide useful information and limit the potential for
misinterpretation of unsupported statements.
From Kavanaugh, Clark, Masson, & Kahn, Obtaining and Utilizing Comprehensive Forensic
Evaluations: The Applicability of One Clinic’s Model, 6 Nev. L.J. 890 (Spring 2006).