If you want to know what a Parental Capacity Assessment is, today's blog post is written by Ray Ferris. Ray had career of 31 years service in child welfare and protection as a social worker and district supervisor and family court coordinator. Ray is the author of 'The Art of Child Protection'. You can purchase it from him by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
"Parental capacity assessments are essentially a method of making an inventory of the life skills of parents. PCAs are similar to Risk Assessments and the main difference is the starting point of each assessment. A risk assessment usually starts with a perceived risk and then assesses the strengths of a parent to resolve that risk. A parental capacity assessment is principally geared to assessing the historical and current functioning of a family in order to provide a profile. This past and present profile is then used to assess the likelihood of future risk. Some types of risk cannot be assessed properly without considering profile.
Now I am going to jolt some of you out of your mental ruts by stating that adoption and foster home studies are in fact parental capacity assessments. In an adoption study one looks at age, health, education, training, earning ability, income, occupation, housing and marital history. One is looking at whether the couple is stable and responsible enough to raise a young child to adulthood. One does look at a number of other things, but the main components are the same as those of a PCA. While a foster home study is similar to the adoption study there are important differences. Foster parents usually have children of their own or they have raised their own children. One can assess parenting ability by observing direct results. Adopting parents take a nice little baby and after a few months they are on their own, just like any other family. With foster parents one seeks very special qualities and the selection process is much more exacting. These foster caregivers will have the challenging task of taking children, who may have suffered severe and prolonged abuse or neglect. The children will be in the home for various lengths of time depending on court outcomes and life plans and so on. Foster parents will need a lot of support and guidance until they gain experience and they must learn to work with the social workers, for better of for worse.
A parental capacity assessment should be an objective and fact-based record of age, health, education employment. A life skills inventory is not very difficult to do. The vast majority of children coming into care are from homes where the life skills are conspicuously absent. They have little education and employment skills, poor job histories and often unstable marital histories. They are poverty stricken and often live in substandard housing. There are money problems and schools complain about hygiene and lack of lunches. So you can see that whether we are talking risk assessment, or parental capacity assessment, the people who discuss and design the outline of these studies are mostly discussing the lowest economic strata in society.
Children get injured all the time and these injuries are nearly always accidental. So how does a doctor assess the cause of an injury? He or she looks at profile. If the injury happens to a child who seems to have decent, caring parents who have looked after the health of their child, he will take the parents' word about the injury. However, if the family has a history of alcohol or drug abuse, family violence, or a criminal record with violence, then the picture is different. Another warning sign is if there are simply too many injuries occurring in the family.
Now you can see why shaken baby is such a dangerous hypothesis. In Ontario and many states of the USA, SBS charges and convictions put a lot of innocent people in jail, many of whom are now being released and compensated. In child protection and Shaken Baby diagnosis is an automatic accusation of deliberate injury and an exemplary profile will not save you. The obvious inference should be that if the profile contradicts the probability of deliberate injury, then one should ask if the doctor might be mistaken and certainly a second opinion should be sought. Definitely, the profile should not be re-invented to match the accusation as it has been in a recent case. People with good life management skills and apparently good social profiles can be a cause of concern for future care of children if they are becoming problem drinkers, or if they are developing a diagnosable mental illness. Marital disputes can become problematic and so on. However, not all addictions cause behaviours which put children at risk and so on.
So there you have it, a parental capacity assessment is a systematic record of the functional abilities of the parents. It can be done on a very factual basis. Who is qualified to do a parental capacity assessment? The assessment is to gather and record a specific body of information and make an informed opinion about it. Who is able to do that? Basically anyone with the background and interpersonal skills to follow the guidelines can do them. Anyone with a degree in one of the social sciences should be able to take the training in doing such assessments. It takes time to develop those interview skills and the experience to assess the material. One needs to be able to read people. For instance you have received a positive written reference and you choose to interview that person. In the interview she seems to hesitate about certain things and shows some discomfort. There is something she is not telling you and your interview skills draw out the fact that this mother has an explosive temper that gets out of control.
With some exceptions one must bear in mind that education is not training, but it does provide a sound platform for certain types of training. An MSW does not qualify one to do child protection; neither does an MA in counselling psychology. Psychologists own the expertise in doing psychometric and certain related testing. No one else can do it. One must have a doctoral degree for licensing and those with an MA often become registered clinical counsellors, but one can have other degrees to join. This is not a legally protected title like licensed psychologist or registered social worker.
Family court counsellors often have bachelor’s or master’s degrees and they are called upon to do custody and access reports for which they are provided guidelines. The college of psychologists also has similar guidelines for psychologists so evidently one does not need a doctoral degree to do these reports. However, one does need extra training and mentoring to do them. I was once involved in helping a man in a custody dispute. Both a family court counsellor and a psychologist had done custody and access reports, so I obtained both sets of guidelines and studied them. Neither person had come remotely close to following the guidelines. The chief difference between them was that one cost a pile of money. Similarly with guidelines for parental capacity assessment, psychologists and social workers need additional training. However, I would say that the skills needed are much closer to social work skills than general counselling skills. For instance psychologists do not generally make home visits and so on. In general it is not necessary to use a psychologist for a PCA, but I would not hesitate to use one if psychometric testing were needed, should I suspect intellectual deficit. In the same way I would use a psychiatrist if I suspected a diagnosable mental illness.
|Ray Ferris, knowledgeable - retired from MCFD|