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The Role of Forensic Psychology in Family, Civil, and Criminal Cases

Forensic psychology is concerned with how psychology applies to the criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists deal with a variety of psychological perspectives and how they affect or influence our system of criminal justice. They study legal issues, public policy, laws, competency, and more to make sure that each person receives a fair trial. Understanding the role of the forensic psychologist and their interactions with others within the criminal justice system is important to understanding how our criminal justice system works.

Family Court Cases

Forensic psychologists working on family court cases provide consultation, evaluation, and assessment of individuals involved in the cases. Some of the areas they deal with include divorce and child custody evaluations, child abuse evaluations, communication and interpersonal training and counseling for families, and adoption evaluations. The report from the forensic psychologist is crucial to help a judge make a decision about the parties involved. For example, in a child custody case, the findings and opinion of the forensic psychologist often determines the outcome.

  • Child Custody Evaluations – Sponsored by the Separated Parenting Access & Resource Center, this website explains the process forensic psychologists use when conducting child custody evaluations. It answers frequently asked questions about child custody evaluations.
  • Visitation Risk Assessments – This website thoroughly explains how visitation risk assessments are performed by forensic psychologists and what the parties involved can expect.
  • Grandparent Visitation Evaluations – Sponsored by the Foundation for Grandparenting, this site explains grandparent visitation rights from state to state. It also profiles recent developments in grandparent visitation laws.
  • Mediation of Parental Conflicts about Children – Provided by Southern England Psychological Services, this website presents an article about how forensic psychologists deal with post-separation conflicts among parents about their children.
  • Child Abuse Evaluations - This article discusses the essentials involved in child abuse investigations and evaluations. These include the history form, follow-up investigation, child interview, and court testimony.
  • Adoption Readiness Evaluation – This site sponsored by the Child Welfare Information Gateway presents resources professionals and others can use to help assess adoption readiness. Resources for assessing parental readiness as well as the child’s readiness are offered.
  • Development of Family Reunification Plans – Sponsored by the Family Resource Center, this site offers an outline of family reunification. Need, the program, services provided, and the criteria and process for referral are all discussed.
  • Evaluations to Assess Termination of Parental Rights – Presented by the University of Minnesota Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, this site describes how evaluations are conducted to assess termination of parental rights. Topics explored include laws on parental rights and actions that can be taken under the law.
  • Parent-Child Family Counseling – Produced by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, this site provides information on parent-child interaction therapy, or PCIT, and its use in at-risk situations.
  • Therapeutic Supervised Visitation – This site by Comprehensive Youth Services describes how Therapeutic Supervised Visitation, or TSV, works, and the qualifications for the program.
  • Parenting Skills Training- Sponsored by the Center for the Improvement of Child Caring, this site describes parenting skill-building programs and publications available.
  • Anger Management – This extensive site explains anger management techniques. It talks about how to deal with and control anger.
  • Parental Communication Skills Training – Sponsored by the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, this site describes why communication between parents and children is important. It demonstrates different parental communication skills, like active listening, and explains how to master the skill.

Civil Court Cases

In civil cases, forensic psychologists provide a variety of services to the court. They are concerned with psychological aspects of civil cases such as anxiety, depression, phobias, and trauma. They also provide counseling to those involved in trauma cases. In addition to these services, forensic psychologists working on civil court cases evaluate individuals for worker’s compensation, competency, and personal injury status.

  • Personal Injury Evaluations - This site describes the types of evaluations a forensic psychologist can provide. These include personal injury, psychiatric harm, emotional distress, mental injury, and pain and suffering.
  • IME Second Opinion Evaluations – This site explains what Independent Medical Examinations, or IMEs, are for. It describes their role in civil cases.
  • Worker’s Compensation Evaluations – This article from the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatric Law details how forensic psychologists evaluate workers compensation claims in a managed care setting.
  • Civil Competency Evaluations – This site chronicles test cases and explains how forensic psychologists would determine civil competency in each case.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, this site explains the phenomenon of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, its causes, and its treatments.
  • Anxiety – Sponsored by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, this site describes anxiety and advises sufferers or loved ones as to how to live with it and where to find help.
  • Depression – This site thoroughly explains depression in detail. Examined are the types of depression, its causes, its symptoms, and treatment.
  • Phobias Related to Traumatic Events – Sponsored by Hofstra University, this site discusses the Phobia and Trauma Clinic at the university and how they can treat phobias associated with post traumatic stress disorder.
  • Adjustment Counseling following trauma – This site by the North Dakota State University Counseling Center describes counseling options available after traumatic stress has occurred.
  • Desensitization – Sponsored by the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, this site explains the concept of systematic desensitization.

Criminal Court Cases

Forensic psychologists who work in criminal court cases are usually very busy. They must provide evaluation and assessment of juvenile offenders, assess witness credibility, provide counseling for crime victims, and also provide counseling services to those awaiting trial or on probation. Under the law, the accused has just as many rights as the alleged victim in a criminal case. Therefore, just as the victim is entitled to forensic psychology services, the accused is also entitled to the services of a forensic psychologist.

  • Juvenile Waiver Evaluations – Sponsored by the Maryland Bar Journal, this site describes strategies attorneys use to defend a juvenile waiver case.
  • Assessment of Adult Sexual Offenders – This site by the San Diego County Sex Offender Management Council outlines their standards for forensic psychological evaluations of adult sexual offenders.
  • Assessment of Juvenile Sexual Offenders – Sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, this site explains the protocol manual for assessing juvenile sex offenders.
  • Competency and Diminished Capacity Evaluations – This article from the New York Times discusses the Supreme Court’s examination of the legal role of the mentall ill. It also talks about how they are evaluated for competency and diminished capacity.
  • Adult Pre-Sentencing Evaluations – Sponsored by an attorney, this site discusses the pre-sentence investigation and explains its significance to the defendant.
  • Counseling Juveniles on Probation – This site discusses the role of the Juvenile Probation Counselor in Collin County, Texas.