Forensic Evaluations of Parents in ChildProtection Matters: The Significance of Contextual.....

Susan Cohen Esquilin and Denise M. Williams Johnson


Forensic evaluations of parents in child protection matters are typically conducted

at two points. Early in the life of the case, the focus is on risk and protective factors

to recommend services to achieve parent–child reunification. At the permanency

stage, the question is whether the parents have been sufficiently rehabilitated for

their children to be safely returned. The impact of trauma is frequently underesti-

mated at both stages. Multiple sources of trauma can be in operation, particularly

for African–American parents: interaction with the child protective service agency;

the psychological evaluation process; the parent’s personal trauma history; and the

family’s multigenerational experience of racial trauma. Unless psychologists iden-

tify and understand these contextual, personal, and racial sources of trauma, the

parent’s symptoms and self-protective behaviors may be unwittingly escalated. The

result is misdiagnosis, inadequate or inappropriate therapeutic interventions, and

the ultimate loss of children permanently.

Contextual Trauma

Parental Reactions to Child Welfare System Involvement

For parents, involvement with the child welfare system is highly stressful, if not

traumatic (Dumbrill, 2006; Morrison, 1996; Tuttle, Knudson-Martin, Levin, Taylor,

& Andrews, 2007). Parents describe fear of the caseworker’s power, and feelings of

S. C. Esquilin (*)

ABPP-Clinical, Independent Practice, Verona, NJ, USA

D. M. Williams Johnson

Independent Practice, West Orange, NJ, USA


being out of control, and victimized.....

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