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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Psychological testing in child welfare assessments

I have become rather fascinated with the degree to which psychological testing has become the norm with assessments done for child welfare - child protection authorities in North America. In my research, it has become quite apparent that they have also become very common in England. I rather like the way on justice summed up the concern.

In my judgment, the principal issue for the judge was the mother’s parenting skills. If the judge was (exceptionally) minded to rely on the results of the personality tests, he had first to assess their validity, both generally and for the purpose of this case. The qualifications to the test results properly made by Mr Hunt in his evidence, to my mind, demonstrate that personality testing of this kind cannot be used to resolve issues such as parenting skills unless they are validated by other evidence. Lord Justice Arden, para 67

England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division) Decisions [2004] EWCA Civ 1029

While I also use them in my assessment work, I am often astounded to see how often they add little to the assessment data. Indeed, there are many times when I see results on assessment measures that, when put into a clinical context, have less meaning.

Yet, there are also cases where the data has opened up an important new area of inquiry.

Many people who come for assessment in child welfare cases are so afraid of the implications of assessments that they yield "fake good" profiles. This occurs so often that it might be considered part of the child protection profile. And why not? There is a lot at stake for a parent in these assessments.

My greater concern is that many of these tools have not been validated on the very people that we seek to assess. The child protection population in Canada, is heavily skewed towards Aboriginal populations. Their presence within the norming population of the assessment measures is either absent or minimal. The same is true of many other population groups.

Soem might argue that there is some Aboriginal presence in some of the tests. Perhaps so - but consider that saying a Navaho has been included in the norming and therefore Aboriginals are included is like saying because a a Latino group in the the USA was included that all people from South America are now normed. The Aboriginal peoples of North America are as diverse as any other peoples around the world.

Canada, like many other parts of the world, are becoming even more culturally diverse. Migration around the world has increased. We see many in the child protection who come from elsewhere. English is not their native language. Many assessment measures do not reflect either their language or the context in which they understand such things as parenting dynamics.

Translations of assessment measures may not take into account the nuances of both language and context. A very simple example is the word blueberry. In Quebec it is bluete and in France it is myrtille.  But more importantly, measures present question in a socio-cultural context that immigrants and refugees may not appreciate.

There is very little effort that I am aware of in which norming of assessment measures have been done specifically on child protection populations.

Thus, any assessment of a parent in child protection that relies heavily on psychological testing should be suspect. Efforts must be taken to place results in context and have some degree of consistency between what has been found on these measures and other data sources. If that cannot be achieved then the psychological testing should be approached with a very high degree of caution. Psychological testing is but one piece of the puzzle and it does not always act as the way to fit the pieces together.

Questions that needs answering in each case: why were these tests used? In what way did they pertain to this case? were these assessment measures appropriate to the questions before the assessors? why are these measures valid with this client? what was done to determine if the results are valid? were the results reviewed with the client? how did the assessor deal with things that the client did not see as valid? There are no doubt other questions but these act as a good way to determine how much weight should be given to an assessment report that includes assessment measures.

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