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Friday, February 10, 2017

Dysfunction Disorder

Joaquin Sapien
Pro Publica
Originally published on January 17, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

The mental health professionals in both cases had been recruited by Montego Medical Consulting, a for-profit company under contract with New York City's child welfare agency. For more than a decade, Montego was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by the city to produce thousands of evaluations in Family Court cases -- of mothers and fathers, spouses and children. Those evaluations were then shared with judges making decisions of enormous sensitivity and consequence: whether a child could stay at home or if they'd be safer in foster care; whether a parent should be enrolled in a counseling program or put on medication; whether parents should lose custody of their children altogether.

In 2012, a confidential review done at the behest of frustrated lawyers and delivered to the administrative judge of Family Court in New York City concluded that the work of the psychologists lined up by Montego was inadequate in nearly every way. The analysis matched roughly 25 Montego evaluations against 20 criteria from the American Psychological Association and other professional guidelines. None of the Montego reports met all 20 criteria. Some met as few as five. The psychologists used by Montego often didn't actually observe parents interacting with children. They used outdated or inappropriate tools for psychological assessments, including one known as a "projective drawing" exercise.


Attorneys and psychologists who have worked in Family Court say judges lean heavily on assessments made by psychologists, often referred to as "forensic evaluators." So do judges themselves.

"In many instances, judges rely on forensic evaluators more than perhaps they should," said Jody Adams, who served as a Family Court judge in New York City for nearly 20 years before leaving the bench in 2012. "They should have more confidence in their own insight and judgment. A forensic evaluator's evidence should be a piece of the judge's decision, but not determinative. These are unbelievably difficult decisions; these are not black and white; they are filled with gray areas and they have lifelong consequences for children and their families. So it's human nature to want to look for help where you can get it."

The article is here.