Community psychological assessments
Who am I?
My name is Dr Grace Alexander, although I will introduce myself as Grace. I am a clinical psychologist. Although I am a doctor, I am not a medical doctor, I am someone who has studied people and how their minds/brains work, how they are in themselves and how they are with other people. I have spent ten years (all of my career as a psychologist) working with children and families in care proceedings. I am asked to get involved when there are complicated issues that are involved in making decisions about where children should live.
What do I do?
A psychological assessment generally asks three main questions:
is there anything in how this parent is that would cause them difficulties or problems?
what effect does this have on their child?
what help, support or therapy does this parent need to mean that their problems don't affect their child any more?
There are lots of problems and difficulties that make being a parent more difficult. These are:
being depressed or anxious, or having a problem like psychosis or bipolar
your personality, patterns in how you think, feel, behave and relate to other people that might cause you problems
difficulties with learning, planning or remembering
finding it hard to manage feelings like anger and frustration
what you have learned from how you were parented as a child (it isn't what happened to you as a child that makes you the parent you are, it's what you have learned from it, or how you have come to terms with it)
whether you can think about things from the perspective of your baby, and whether you can think about their feelings
Sometimes we are asked to do risk assessments. This means helping the Court understand if something bad or dangerous is very likely or not very likely to happen in the future.
What will happen?
Meeting your psychologist
Once your assessment has been agreed, the psychologist will make an appointment through your solicitor. Please let us know if this clashes with contact or any other important times. Usually, I will see people at their solicitor’s office, but if there is somewhere more convenient like a children’s centre, then this may be possible. Once I have met you and you have met me, sometimes further assessments can take place at home. I do not do interviews when there is a child in the room because you will need to be able to concentrate.
To start with, I will explain about my job and what I have been asked by the Court to think about. I will explain that there is no confidentiality in a psychological assessment. Usually, when you talk to a therapist or a counsellor, what you say is kept secret and private. In an assessment, this doesn't happen. I will write down what you say and put it in a report which is given to everyone involved with the Court. This means the social worker, the guardian, the solicitors and the Judge.
Talking and listening
Lots of the assessment will be done through just talking about things. I will ask questions about how you are, how things are with your child, your relationships and your history. If there is a question you don't want to answer, then you don't have to. It is more of a discussion than an interview, if there is something you think it is important for me to know, then just say.
Questionnaires are useful because they can measure things that questions and answers can't, and they can save a lot of time by covering a lot of things very quickly. We use questionnaires to measure different personality traits, things like anger, and childhood experiences.
We also sometimes use a test called a WAIS. This is a measure of intelligence, but we mostly use it to help us understand how your brain uses information. Some people are better with words than pictures, some people think very quickly but might not retain information as well as other people. This is not a test of your parenting, and it is not a pass or fail test.
Spending time with you and your baby
There are some things that are hard to put into words, and it's easier just to show people. That is why it is important for the psychologist to see you with your child, to see how you are as a parent.
What happens next?
All of the information that I have from you, the papers, from talking to people who know you well, is all put together. I will then write a report that answers the questions that the Court has asked. This is written for the Judge to help her or him understand what is going on for you and what help you might need to be able to look after your children safely so it can seem like a very complicated report. Your solicitor will go through it with you to help you understand it.