By Diane Wasznicky, Esq., CFLS, and Jack D. Love, MA, LMFT
For a number of years, the California chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC-CA) has attempted to address the decreasing numbers of mental health professionals qualified to serve in family law forensic roles. These roles include custody evaluations (FC§3110 and Evidence Code§730), FC§3111 evaluators, Private Child Custody Recommending Counselors (CCRCs), reunification therapists, family and children’s therapists (where the parents are involved in conflicted custody/parenting litigation), coparent counselors, special masters/parenting coordinators, and even supervisors for parent–child contact.
The problem is that the generation of mental health professionals currently trained and qualified in these areas is aging, retiring, limiting their practices in preparation for retirement, or, unfortunately, has passed away. This has led to an alarming decrease in qualified family law forensic mental health professionals in every county in California. Those who remain are often overloaded with cases, which leads to delays in the family law process. Because of the resulting scheduling and time constraints, the process often takes much longer than it should, which exacerbates the already negative impact of divorce on children and families.
Our dilemma has been how to inform, interest and recruit experienced, midcareer mental health professionals to include family law forensic work in their practices. In Sacramento County, we have developed an approach to this problem that appears to be working. Our model could easily be implemented in other California counties. It only requires the commitment of a small group (5–10) of family law attorneys and experienced forensic mental health professionals to get started.
We emphasize two strong selling points for the non-forensic, midcareer mental health professional:
- The ability to have a positive impact on families in conflict and to help the children in these families to get what they need; and
- The opportunity for mental health professionals to diversify their practices and to increase private pay work rather than be limited to third-party reimbursement.
The process is simple, inexpensive and manageable. Like every journey, you first have to start.
We started by organizing informational meetings and seminars for local MHPs. We made presentations to graduate school classes and gathered contact information from anyone who might be interested. We then organized and advertised an opportunity to learn more about child custody forensic work, and to meet and network with local family law professionals. From there we organized a hands-on training program called, “Introduction to Family Court Forensic Mental Health Work.” This was a brief (we provided two CEU hours) introductory course about family law forensic work for mental health professionals, focusing on court-involved therapy, mediation and custody evaluation.
Subsequently, our project started to take on a life of its own. For example, in Sacramento County a core group of 12–14 MHPs, who had attended our previous meetings, needed the required 16 hours of Domestic Violence training. Because no such program was available, they reached out to a reputable trainer in the field, pooled their money, and brought that person to Sacramento to provide the full 16-hour program over one weekend. They even facilitated Judicial Council approval on their own. It can be done!
Besides information, the major issue for the MHPs who want to include forensic work in their practices is getting the necessary training. Unfortunately, this training is specialized and not as available in California as it was 5–10 years ago. So, it is vital that the mentoring group in each community actively assist in connecting MHPs with existing training opportunities, and even create opportunities where they do not exist.
One of the biggest hurdles MHPs new to forensic mental health work encounter is finding the required 40 hours of custody evaluation training necessary to provide custody evaluations and private Child Custody Recommending Counseling, and helpful in any forensic role such as Special Master/Parenting Coordinator or court-involved therapy. This training is nearly impossible to find now (William James College offers a combined online/in residence program only once per year).
As part of our commitment to expanding the pool of qualified family law forensic mental health professionals, the Sacramento Outreach Group, together with AFCC-CA, the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists, and the Family Law Section of the California Lawyers Association, will co-sponsor a 40-hour custody evaluation training in Sacramento over two weekends this year:
40-Hour Custody Evaluation Training
May 3–5, and May 17–19, 2019
Expert presenters for this training are:
Robin Deutsch, PhD
Dr. Deutsch is Director of the Center of Excellence for Children, Families and the Law at the William James College (www.williamjames.edu/cffc) and core faculty in the Clinical Psychology doctoral program. For more than 20 years she was the Director of Forensic Services and Training at the Children and the Law Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, most recently as an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology. Board certified in Couples and Family Psychology, she practices as a mediator, Parenting Coordinator, reunification specialist, and consultant.
Leslie Drozd, PhD
Dr. Drozd is a licensed psychologist and marriage, family and child therapist and works clinically with families in the various stages of divorce including coparenting therapy, family therapy, reintegration therapy and parent coordination. She has been a child-custody evaluator for more than 28 years, trains other evaluators, and serves as a consultant to attorneys and as a testifying expert in family law matters. She helped write the Association of Family Conciliation Courts Model Standards for conducting child custody evaluations (2006) and guidelines for parenting plan evaluations involving allegations of domestic violence (2016).
Robert Kaufman, PhD
Dr. Kaufman has more than 20 years of experience in forensic psychology, including court-related assessments, consultation to attorneys and expert witness testimony. He has testified in both civil and criminal matters. He is a frequent presenter at conferences of national professional organizations such as the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts and the Society for Personality Assessment. He has published in the field of family law as well as in jury consultation. Dr. Kaufman is also an expert reviewer for the State of California Board of Psychology, where he assesses ethics complaints against psychologists lodged by consumers of psychological services.
This is the only training of its kind to be offered on the West Coast. If you’ve been thinking about entering this rewarding field of work with children and families, this training will get you significantly closer to eligibility.
The total cost is $850 for those registered by April 1, 2019, and $950 thereafter.
This training is open to all licensed mental health professionals, but space is limited.
For registration information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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