A psychologist (Dr. A) was cautioned, provided advice, and was required to complete a Specified Continuing Education and Remediation Program (SCERP) regarding a parental capacity assessment (PCA) he completed in the context of contentious family law proceedings. The case provides some helpful guidance for all psychologists (and other professionals) to avoid missteps when conducting independent assessments.
Dr. A was retained by a mother in family court proceedings after another psychologist (Dr. B), who was ordered by the court to conduct a PCA, failed to provide a report in her favour. The mother had made several sexual abuse allegations against the father, which Dr. B found were false and orchestrated by the mother. Dr. B conducted her assessment over a six month period.
Dr. A conducted his assessment over a period of a few weeks and interviewed the mother, but not the father, as he refused to participate. Dr. A also conducted projective testing, and other certain tests designed to assess parenting, and referred the child to a colleague for a psychological assessment. In his report, Dr. A posited “alternative explanations” for certain key inferences on which Dr. B based her opinions and recommendations and ultimately recommended that the child’s well-being could be maintained while living with the mother.
The College of Psychologists of Ontario’s Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee’s (the “Committee”) findings showed that the Committee was concerned that Dr. A did not have adequate information to reach the conclusions he did about the parenting capacity of the mother and the wellbeing of the child. Certain conclusions in the report, including those related to the sexual abuse allegations did not appear to be based on strong facts or information and there were “gaps and flaws” in the PCA. The Committee cautioned and provided advice to Dr. A and required him to engage in a SCERP for the “protection of the public”.
Dr. A sought a review of the decision by the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board (the “Board”). The Board found that the Committee’s decision fell within a range of possible, acceptable outcomes and was reasonable.
Guidance for Psychologists
Based on the cautions and advice provided to the psychologist in this case, the following can act as guidance for other psychologists in this context as well:
- Psychologists should consider whether an assessment is in the child’s best interest before agreeing to conduct such an assessment. Factors to consider will include whether the psychologist has an adequate amount of time to conduct a proper assessment and whether he or she has access to important information before agreeing to conduct a PCA;
- A psychologist should ensure that he or she has adequate and reliable information to support any opinions, conclusions or recommendations;
- A psychologist should take great care when engaging in written discussions to avoid speculation that is not based on reliable information, and that will not add value or clarity to the issues to be resolved;
- When conducting PCAs or any assessment where there are differing perspectives, a psychologist may avoid the appearance of bias if he or she considers information from more than one “side”. Such an approach also will likely lead to a more balanced report.
- A description of the role, credentials, and experience of any professionals involved in the assessments may add clarity and reliability to the report.
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