Psychological Risk Assessment

A parent's right to be actively involved in the lives of his or her children is considered a fundamental right, and is strongly protected by the courts. A psychological visitation risk assessment is usually requested when one parent has made allegations against the other parent relating to psychological problems or behavior which could have an adverse effect on the children.

Best Interests of the Child

The best interests of the children take precedence over a parent's right of access to his/her children, if the facts support a strong risk of potential harm to the children as a result of unrestricted parental visitation. The mere presence of an accusation by the other parent is insufficient, because either parent could be making a false claim to the court regarding parent-child interactions. Further, a custodial parent may choose to err on the side of caution in requesting restrictions on visitation by the non-custodial parent, and that parent's perception of potential harm may be influenced by conflict with the other parent. 

The role of a psychologist in completing a visitation risk assessment is to determine whether there is any objective evidence of a psychological problem or behavior pattern that would result in a high liklihood of inappropriate and potentially harmful interactions between parent and child. Presence of a diagnosed psychological problem is insufficient, because many individuals with such problems function adequately as parents, before and after divorce. The question to be addressed by the psychologist, is whether there is evidence of a psychological problem which would predict harmful behavior. Harm can occur either by direct action of the parent, as in the case of child abuse, or it can occur as the result of neglect because of poor parental decision making or judgement. This might include exposing the child to physical or emotional danger, or failing to adequately supervise the child.

When completing a visitation risk assessment it is helpful for the psychologist to interview both parents, although it is possible to obtain information about the allegations made by the custodial parent through a review of the documents presented to the court. Both clinical interviews and psychological tests are used to assess the risk to the child, as well as a review of pertinent court documents related to past domestic violence, child abuse, or other involvement with the courts, and a review of records pertaining to past mental health treatment of either parent. The circumstances of the case will dictate whether the child needs to be interviewed, or whether the parent and child need to be seen together.

Past mental health treatment of the child, or the presence of any physical or emotional disabilities in the child, as well as basic information about the child, such as age and academic progress, need to be reviewed as well. Issues of parental alienation are often present in these cases, but custody is typically not contested. The role of the psychologist is to determine whether there is evidence to indicate that visitation, supervised or unsupervised, presents a risk of physical or emotional harm to the child or children. If the conclusions indicate a visitation risk, then the psychologist should recommend remedial action that may reduce or eliminate the risk. The ultimate goal is to make recommendations that are in the best interests of the child in the present, and for the long term.   

Dr Franklin has experience completing 
Visitation Risk Assessment Psychological Evaluations. 
Please call (908) 526-8111 for more information.

Diagnostic Psychological Evaluations

Diagnostic psychological evaluations assess whether an individual appears to have any psychological problems. 

In particular, psychologists assess whether the individual has the symptoms of any specific psychological diagnoses. An evaluation may also describe or explain the general psychological adjustment problems being presented by an individual, in an effort to understand the individual's behavior. Identifying specific problems is a necessary step in the development of a treatment plan. The evaluation determines what type of treatment is most likely to be beneficial.

Diagnostic evaluations can be informal assessments made during the initial interview with a client at the beginning of psychotherapy, or they can be formal procedures involving a structured interview with assessment procedures designed to identify or rule out several possible hypotheses regarding the psychological functioning of the individual. This latter procedure is usually part of a comprehensive psychological evaluation that includes the administration of psychological tests. A comprehensive psychological evaluation may take several hours, or even several days, depending on the problems being assessed, and the reason for the assessment.

Insurance reimbursement requires a psychological diagnosis. Therefore, all psychological treatment (that will be submitted for insurance reimbursement) begins with a diagnostic evaluation to determine the appropriate clinical diagnosis. This assessment includes questions about the problem, your personal and family history, and a review of current life stressors. Psychologists use a variety of verbal assessment measures to determine whether there is evidence of a specific psychological problem. Once psychological problems are identified, a treatment plan can be developed to resolve them. However, the diagnostic process continues during psychotherapy. Psychologists will reassess problems, symptoms, and progress, and review other possible treatment plans.

During a comprehensive psychological evaluation, the psychologist acts like a detective. First, the psychologist develops various hypotheses about your problem, based on the information you present in the interview. Then, each hypothesis is tested by gathering additional information, through structured questions and a review of available information about your past medical and social history. This process will identify specific symptoms that should, or should not, be present, according to each hypothesis. Each competing hypothesis is evaluated to determine how well it explains your current psychological functioning. Finally, the psychologist reaches a conclusion, based on the testing of each hypothesis, which leads to a clinical diagnosis, and a treatment plan. At times, psychologists may also assess whether there is appears to be a causal relationship between the diagnosis and some traumatic event or other life circumstances.

Pre-sentence Psychological Evaluations

The court may desire a psychological evaluation as part of a presentence investigation, or the defense may wish to present psychological information for the court to consider in sentencing. A presentence psychological evaluation can affect sentencing to the extent that it addresses aggravating or mitigating circumstances. 

Psychological evaluations conducted as part of presentence investigations should address any factors that relate to aggravating or mitigating circumstances. A psychological evaluation conducted at the request of the defense can focus on mitigating circumstances alone. However, under cross examination, a psychologist would be obligated to present any aggravating factors identified in the course of the evaluation, when questioned by the prosecution. 

The standard format for presentencing psychological evaluations would include a review of all pertinent discovery materials, especially the presentence report and other psychological reports completed on the defendant. The clinical interview examines the defendant's psychosocial history, including any past psychological treatment, or past criminal offenses committed as a result of a psychological disorder. Psychological testing is used to evaluate the presence of psychological disorders, psychopathy, or personality characteristics that may have mediated rational decision making or interfered with judgment or perception. The results are presented in a comprehensive psychological report, summarizing any relevant findings for the court.

Dr. Franklin completes pre-sentence psychological evaluations. If you are an attorney, and have
questions about an evaluation, please contact the office at (908) 526-8111

Psychological Evaluations - Probation

Many juvenile and adult offenders have psychological problems that play a role in the commission of a crime. A criminal act may simply be the result of a lack of compliance with normal social rules, or even psychopathic or sociopathic behavior. However, it is often part of a pattern of psychological acting out, in response to an underlying psychological disorder. Identification and treatment of these underlying psychological problems can reduce the rate of recidivism in many offenders. This issue is especially important for individuals placed on probation, because their offenses are often less severe, and many are first offenders.  Providing psychological treatment to adult and juvenile probationers with diagnosed psychological problems that contributed to their criminal behavior, benefits society and the offender. Individuals with poor impulse control, anger management problems, substance abuse, and personality disorders are most likely to act out and commit an act resulting in probation. Additionally, more serious mental health problems that contribute to criminal behavior may require close monitoring by a psychologist. For example, this may include individuals with bipolar disorder, or psychotic disorders, who commit violent offenses because of their disorder. (Note that all individuals with these disorders do not commit crimes.)

With juveniles, criminal behavior may be the result of poor or absent parenting, or being raised in a problematic or dysfunctional family.  Psychological evaluation of juvenile offenders is an essential part of the family court system, because the thrust of the juvenile justice system is to provide rehabilitation. A juvenile offender may need psychological treatment, educational assistance, or treatment for a substance abuse problem. When placed on probation, provision of these needed rehabilitation services will reduce the possibility of recidivism. For this reason, evaluation of juveniles on probation, and tracking their progress in treatment, is essential.

The psychological evaluation process includes a review of all of the charges, plus a review of all past charges on the record. For juveniles, it can be helpful to see academic school records, including attendance records, and any child study team evaluations or classifications are extremely important. The probationer is seen for a clinical interview to assess his/her psychological status, and to identify any psychological disorders. If indicated in the interview, personality tests or other psychological assessment instruments used to identify depression, psychopathy, or other psychological disorders may be administered. Depending on the circumstances of the case, family members may also be interviewed. 

A comprehensive report summarizes the clinical findings of the evaluation. Additionally, the report will present conclusions, based on reasonable psychological certainty, regarding any connection between the identified psychological problems and the individual's criminal activity. The psychologist will make specific recommendations for treatment, and will present a prognosis regarding the likelihood of repeat offenses in the future, with and without treatment. The psychologist may also be asked to monitor progress in treatment.

Dr. Franklin provides both psychological evaluations of probationers, 
and psychological treatment to individuals on probation. 
Contact Dr. Franklin at (908) 526-8111 for more information.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The essential element of PTSD, is that a person either experienced or observed an event which involved actual or threatened death or serious injury to self or someone else. Within a family, PTSD can develop in response to learning about the violent death of a loved one.

This disorder was first described in Vietnam War veterans, but has also been called "battle fatigue" and "war neurosis" in past wars. More than 50 percent of combat veterans may experience some form of PTSD, although the milder forms may not be diagnosed or treated. Combat veterans tend to experience more severe forms of PTSD because the duration and severity of trauma during war is greater, but the disorder is frequently diagnosed in civilians who have experienced and survived serious trauma. For example, the victims of serious accidents, rape survivors, people burned out of their homes, survivors of other natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes, and violent crime victims all may develop PTSD. In each of these events, the threat of death or serious injury is present, and those who develop PTSD realized, or believed, that their lives were on the line.

Another characteristic of PTSD is the remembering of the trauma, and sometimes actually reliving the events in your mind. Survivors have recurrent recollections of the event, distressing dreams about what happened, or some other form of psychological rehashing of the event. (For example, the survivor of a head-on car crash may sometimes "see" another car coming toward him/her, even though there is no other car.) These violent recollections can have a serious impact on a person's life. As a result, the person avoids all situations that might be a reminder of the trauma, and tends to react with significant anxiety whenever there is a reminder of the event.

People with PTSD may experience a variety of somatic and psychological complaints, including sleep disturbance, outbursts of anger, or an exaggerated startle response. (They jump at sudden noises or movements). Social relationships often suffer, as the person becomes more withdrawn and detached. If you have experienced a serious trauma, and have some of these symptoms, you may want to consult with a psychologist about your condition to determine if you have PTSD, and to learn what can be done to help you.

Dr. Franklin provides treatment for PTSD, including the more severe forms seen in combat veterans. A combination of cognitive therapy to alter the recollections of the trauma, supportive counseling while expressing the feelings associated with the events, and behavioral interventions to control the stress responses appears to be most effective.

For more information, please call (908) 526-8111