A forensic evaluation is a generic term used for any psychological evaluation ordered by the court. Its purpose is to assess the presence and severity of psychological problems of an individual. At a minimum, these evaluations assess for the presence and severity of any major mental health disorder, Axis I disorder, or personality disorder, Axis II disorder. The court may further order that the psychologist evaluates the potential for such specific difficulties as the potential for domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, substance abuse, violence, or the presence and severity of a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A forensic evaluation includes the following: a thorough clinical interview, the administration of at least two psychological tests, and a report. The clinical interview involves a comprehensive developmental history and psychological history of the individual. The comprehensive report addresses the referral questions of the court.
As to the length of a forensic evaluation, the assessment interview usually requires from one to three hours. Psychological testing ranges from a minimum of three to seven hours. A psychological report may take from two to four hours to complete.
A social investigation involves a thorough analysis for the court of what is in the best interests of the child. It is an evaluation ordered by the court when parents cannot agree on a parenting schedule and/or the decision making responsibilities regarding the health, education, and extracurricular activities of children. As pointed out in the American Psychological Association (APA), ” From the court’s perspective, the most valuable contributions of psychologists are those that reflect a clinically astute and scientifically sound approach to legally relevant issues. (pg. 864)
A social investigation consists of interviews with all concerned parties, individually and with each other. Each parent is then invited to perform a task with each child in the investigator’s office to assess how well they cooperate with each other. The investigator then interviews significant people in each child’s life including teachers, babysitters, and tutors as well as individuals who are familiar with the parenting skills of the adults’ parties. These are known as collateral interviews. The investigator also assesses the home of each parent to ensure a safe, secure, and child-friendly environment. Psychological testing is also administered when appropriate.
When the evaluation is complete, the forensic evaluator is expected to write a comprehensive report for the court. This report should address the strengths and weaknesses of each parent as well as any psychological issues affecting the best interests of the child. It may also recommend special services when required including psychotherapy, the need for a Guardian ad Litem (GAL), the need for a parent coordinator, or the need for tutoring.