Child custody: Practice standards, ethical issues, & legal safeguards for mental health professionals
Woody, R. H. (2000). Child custody: Practice standards, ethical issues, & legal safeguards for mental health professionals. Sarasota, FL: Professional Resources Press, 148 pp., $19.95.
In this extremely litigious society, clinicians have the precarious position of trying to do what they think is right juxtaposed with protecting themselves from legal and ethical repercussions. Woody, using his vast experience and training, offers a book that attempts to juggle the needs and rights of clinicians, clients, society, and in particular children whose parents are divorcing. He tackles the issue of child custody from an ethical, legal, clinical, and humanistic approach. The intended audience is mainly mental health professionals/graduate students planning to offer legal testimony in child custody disputes. However, Woody contends the book is also appropriate for lawyers and parents going through the legal process of divorce.
The book is based on a scientist-practitioner approach. Consequently, models containing a strong professional, theoretical, and research foundation are emphasized. Woody’s overarching theoretical approach is a blend of the cognitive social-learning approach and family systems. He believes political, legal, and mental health systems prefer this combination because it allows professionals to view children’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors as a product of their immediate context (family) and biology/heredity.
Topics covered in the book include the effects of divorce, constructing a theoretical framework for custody evaluations, protecting children, understanding the legal system, suggestions for determining child custody, clarifying the clinician’s role in a custody case, case management, confidentiality, and testifying. The way the book is written and the topics covered make it appropriate for use in a graduate level assessment course and/or an ethics course. In addition, it can be used within a variety of disciplines and is intended for professionals, such as marriage and family therapists, psychologists, and counselors. Although definitely written for graduate students or professionals, the writing can be somewhat repetitive. Each chapter includes “guidelines” that are basic restatements of important concepts in the chapter. These guidelines are useful, but at times give the book a tone more commensurate with an undergraduate textbook.
Overall, the book is informative, easy to understand, and is an excellent introduction to the many advantages and disadvantages of providing testimony in child custody cases. Woody makes clear the legal, ethical, and personal ramifications of performing child custody evaluations. Although the role of an evaluator is fraught with ethical and legal pitfalls, it can be an extremely important and rewarding role. Because judges often must determine what is in the best interest of the child based on conflicting evidence, judges may depend heavily on expert opinion and testimony. The mental health practitioner’s testimony becomes one of the bases of the judge’s judicial orders and decrees. Therefore, the clinician may have an integral role in deciding what is in the best interest of the child. His book offers guidelines to help the evaluator advocate for the child’s best interest while also maintaining the highest ethical, legal, and professional standards.
Shannon Dermer, PhD
The University of Akron
Copyright American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Apr 2002
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