Submitted by Linda Green-Baskett, M.A., L.M.H.C.
S. DOB: xxx, 2005
D. DOB: xxx, 2006
The Court is faced with a difficult decision in the matter of these children. This document will give clarity to the nature of psychological assessment and reports. It will also speak to attachment as developmental phenomena occurring in the first five years of life.
It is concerning that the Court has not been given a complete and through psychological assessment of the biological parents. I understand that multiple psychological assessments have been completed. If a licensed psychologist conducted these assessments, the data in these assessments will be consistent.
Assessment instruments for psychological testing go through rigorous development. This ensures that the instrument has content validity. Meaning that the instrument tests what it claims to test. Other multiple measures of validity are used to determine that a given instrument is appropriate and useful for the object it means to measure. It is expected that others using the same instrument will achieve the same results (Drummond & Jones, 2006. Hersen, 2004.).
If the psychological information is not consistent, the data has been manipulated. Psychological assessment is intended to provide information. This information helps to determine; strengths and difficulties across multiple domains such as intelligence, enduring personality traits, issues with substance use and abuse, tendencies toward violence, and whether or not person being assessed is malingering. The information is neither “good” nor “bad”. It simply provides information that is useful.
In the case of psychological assessments that are determined to be “unfavorable” to biological family members, it is still in the best interest of the Court to review the information. The Court needs a thorough understanding of the psychological information in order to make the best possible decision regarding these children. Any attempt to circumvent the findings in a psychological assessment must be looked upon with grave suspicion.
It is imperative that the Court have correct and accurate information about parents so that these children are protected. To that end, I am asking the Court to order a forensic psychological assessment and parenting evaluation. By virtue of the Courts order, the Court becomes the client. The information the Court receives will be accurate, consistent, and reliable. Western Washington is fortunate to have licensed forensic psychologists available to make this assessment. I would recommend Dr. Marnee Milner, J.D., Ph.D. Dr. Milner has extensive experience with assessments of parents involved in custody issues.
I understand that the AGAL for these children is Christopher Desmond. Mr. Desmond works for the Law Office of Jay Carey. This firm is known for its work with biological parents involved in dependency issues. This certainly gives the appearance of a conflict of interest. It is of critical importance that this AGAL be held accountable by the Court in showing due diligence on behalf of these children. If Mr. Desmond has expressed dislike of the findings in a valid psychological assessment of the biological parents then that would seem to point to a clear inability to advocate on behalf of the best interest of these children. It is disconcerting that Mr. Desmond has not recused himself in this matter given the clear appearance of conflict of interest.
These children have spent their entire lives with their current foster families. S., placed at the age of 18 weeks, has now been with her foster family 2 years and 11 months. D., placed at the age of three weeks, has been with his current foster family 2 years and 4 months. These children have developed a psychological attachment to these families. Developmental attachment is a function of biology. It is a function of consistency. The adults who provide constant attention to meeting the needs of an infant become parents for the child. From the infants point of view the most vital part of the surrounding world is the emotional connection with her/his caregiver (Balbernie. 2001). Research informs us that this emotional connection operates as a central organizing process within the brain of infants and young children. From birth through the age of six years, rapid growth is taking place in the child’s brain. Through a secure attachment to caregivers, the mind is directly shaped to integrate experience and to adapt to future stressors ( Balbernie, 2001., Davies., 2002., Gauthier, Fortin, & Jeliu., 2004., Schore., 2001).
These children have medical issues due to preterm birth and evidence of in utero substance exposure. The National Research Counsel and Institute of Medicine in America have published a book titled, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development; this text provides an integrated overview of all facets of early childhood development. These authors state,” the young children warranting the greatest concerns are those growing up in environments, starting before birth, that fail to provide them with adequate nutrition and all of the other growth fostering inputs, expose them to biological insults, and subject them to abusive and neglectful care” ( Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000: 217 ). Do the biological parents have other children that they have failed to protect before birth or after?
Babies and young children must interact with a responsive and nurturing environment to ensure normal brain growth. They are learning all of the time, through every interaction that takes place. From the biological perspective in the time span beginning at eight weeks gestation through the first two years after birth, the developing brain produces 1.8 million new synapses per second. By the age of two years, the child has as many synapses as an adult. By the age of 3 years, this has double to 1,000 trillion. These synapses form the neuronal hardwiring of the brain.
Connectivity is a crucial feature of brain development, because the neuronal pathways formed during the early years carry signals and allow us to process information throughout our lives. How, and how well, we think and learn as both children and adults- has a great deal to do with the extent and nature of these connections.
(Schore, R., 1997:22)
Starting at the age of two continuing through adolescence a process of neuronal pruning
occurs in the brains of children. This is selective way of strengthening the connections most used in the brain and eliminating redundant synapses (Balbernie, 2001, Eliot, 2001, Schore, 1997, Schore, 2001). Detrimental early experiences can cause a child to develop a wide range of problems. The earliest signs of difficulty can be seen in learning disabilities, language delay, hyperactivity associated with disruptive behavior, distractibility, hypervigilance, lack of empathy, poor impulse control.
These two children have additional medical concerns that put them at high risk. D. has sensory issues making him uncomfortable with touch, this also makes him irritable when being bathed, changed, or dressed. He has feeding issues placing him at high risk for malnourishment if he is placed in the care of persons not skilled at attending to his needs. He also has asthma, requiring that his caregivers be constantly vigilant regarding symptoms of respiratory distress. Asthma is a life threatening condition. If not responsibly managed, D. could die from acute respiratory arrest.
S. also has on-going needs due to prematurity and her experiences prior to placement in foster care. She has pervasive developmental disorder. This child also requires constant monitoring for sensory over load. She requires constant monitoring for feeding issues. This child would be at high risk for death if not given adequate nutrition. She has significant hearing problems requiring her caregivers to utilize multimodal communication. She has vision problems requiring continuous medical follow up. Over time, she will require strong advocacy within the school setting to ensure that her special learning needs are met.
Both of these children require specialized parenting. The current caregivers have taken the necessary steps needed to learn the skills essential to meetings needs of D. and S.. These children are at high risk if they are not in the constant and consistent care of persons who adequately can meet their special needs. Have the biological parents of these kids demonstrated that they can adequately care for these children? Have they presented letters to the Court by the children’s medical specialists indicating that the medical providers are confident that the biological parents can attend to the extraordinary medical needs these children have?
If a decision to move these children from their psychological families is undertaken, then it is imperative that all of the parties understand the consequences that will have on S. and D..
We have often observed that children who are progressively reintegrated back to their biological family experience severe suffering. These children typically become deeply attached to their foster families. Their symptoms express profound fear of losing their foster parents, who have become their”psychological parents”. Such disruption of attachment will most probably leave important sequelae in the child’s character structure and in the child’s capacity to establish trust-based relationships.
(Gauthier, Fortin, & Jeliu, 2004: 386)
S. and D. have lived their entire lives in their current families. It is reasonable to expect the emergence of negative symptoms when there is a requirement for visitation that involves separation of the children from their psychological parents. Such visits give rise to anxiety in children who have no memory of parents they hardly knew. Symptoms such as sleeping problems, hyperactivity, hypervigilance, and irritability are likely to manifest in the children pre and/or post visit. If the biological parents express to the children that they will soon be returning to them, the children may exhibit more extensive symptoms of generalized anxiety
(Gauthier, Fortin, & Jeliu, 2004). All children are confused by a message that calls into question the security and safety of loosing the care giving and nurturing relationships they have developed within their foster families.
The Court is faced with a decision that can change the lives of D. and S. forever. Will the Court require a complete, through, professional psychological assessment and parenting evaluation by a licensed forensic psychologist? These children need the Court to have all of the information that this assessment can provide. Will the Court ensure that the AGAL is behaving in a manner consistent with these children’s best interest? There is already ample information that indicates that perhaps has not been the case thus far. D. and S. cannot file a complaint with the Washington State Bar Association to address the lack of due diligence or the appearance of ethical conflict. The Court must protect these children. Will the Court ensure that all the parties have followed ALL of the orders issued thus far? Failure to comply with Court orders provides the Court with valuable information about the parties. If there are failures to follow the Courts orders by the biological parents, what will that mean for D. and S.? If the biological parents are not taking the Courts orders, seriously how are they going to take the needs of these two vulnerable children seriously?
The Court is the greatest hope these children have for protection. Please use all of the resources at your disposal to keep D. and S. safe, secure, and able to grow into all of their adult potential.
Linda Green-Baskett, M.A., L.M.H.C.
Balbernie, R., (2001) Circuits and Circumstances: The Neurobiological consequences of Early Relationship Experiences and How They Share Later Behavior. Journal of Child Psychotherapy. Vol. 27 (3), 237 – 255.
Davies, M., (2002) A Few Thoughts about the Mind, the Brain, and A Child with Early Deprivation. Journal of Analytical Psychology. 47. 421 – 435
Drummond, R., & Jones, K. (2006) Assessment Procedures for Counselors and Helping Professionals (sixth edition). New Jersey: Prentice Hall
Eliot, L. (2001) Early Intelligence: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Years. London: Penguin
Gauthier, Y., Fortin, G., & Jeliu, G. (2004) Clinical Application of Attachment Theory in Permanency Planning for Children in Foster Care: The Importance of Continuity of Care. Infant Mental Health Journal, Vol. 25 (4), 379 – 396
Hersen, M. (2004) Psychological Assessment in Clinical Practice. New York: Brunner-Routledge
Schore, A.N. (2001) Effects of a Secure Attachment on Right Brian Development, Affect Regulation and Infant Mental Health. Infant Mental Health Journal, 22(1-2): 201 – 269.
Schore, R., (1997) Rethinking the Brain: New Insights into Early Development. New York: Families and Work Institute.
Shonkoff, J.P. & Phillips, D.A. (eds) (2000) From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Dr. Marnee W. Milner, J.D., Ph.D
Washington State Psychological Association
Psychologist Referral Service 206-545-3994