17 Child L. Prac. 1 (1998-1999)

handle is hein.journals/chilawpt17 and id is 1 raw text is: Child Law

Vol. 17 No. 1

March 1998

Helping Lawyers Help Kids

Tips for Attorneys: Evaluating Mental Health
Testimony in Child Sexual Abuse Cases*
by Rosalyn Schultz

When litigating child sexual abuse
cases, whether you represent the ac-
cused, accuser, or alleged victim, you
will encounter mental health experts.
Whether they are retained by you or
opposing counsel, or are appointed by
the court, you will need to evaluate
the strengths and weaknesses of their
testimony. This article will help you
with this task by exploring several
key considerations when evaluating
mental health testimony. Special em-
phasis is given to some of the more
problematic areas that arise.
The evaluations and testimony of
mental health professionals can pro-
vide valuable insights to help the
court decide whether sexual abuse oc-
curred. Mental health testimony is not
conclusive, but because of the consid-
erable weight courts may give their
findings, it is important to know what
constitutes a reliable mental health
Is the Expert Qualified to Perform
the Evaluation?
Mental health professionals
performing evaluations for

child sexual abuse should have
special expertise, knowledge
and training.
Published guidelines of the American
Academy of Child and Adolescent
Psychiatry (AACAP) and the Ameri-
can Professional Society on the Abuse
of Children (APSAC) include recom-
mended qualifications for mental
health professionals who conduct
child sexual abuse evaluations (see
Resources, p.8). When you assess ex-
perts' qualifications, note that not
every requirement must be met for
AACAP's guidelines state evalua-
tors should:
 have special skill and experience in
child and adolescent sexual abuse;
 perform evaluations under the di-
rection of an experienced child and
adolescent psychiatrist or
 be knowledgeable about child de-
velopment, family dynamics related
to sexual abuse, effects of sexual
abuse on the child, and the assess-
ment of children, adolescents and
 be trained in the diagnostic evalua-
tion of children and adults; and
 be comfortable testifying in court

*Special thanks to Kathleen Faller, Ph.D., Ann Arbor MI; David Corwin, A'. D.,
Cincinnati, 01H; AIoisy Shopper, Al. D., St. Louis, A10; and Ann Haralambie, J. D.
Tucson, AZ for their helpful reviews of earlier drafts.

and be prepared and willing to do
APSAC's guidelines state evalua-
tors should:
 possess an advanced mental health
degree in a recognized discipline or
be supervised;
 have experience evaluating and
treating children and families and
experience with sexually abused
 have specialized training in child
development and child sexual
abuse, documented through formal
course work, supervision, or atten-
dance at conferences, seminars and
 be familiar with current profes-
sional literature on sexual abuse and
have knowledge of the dynamics
and emotional and behavioral con-
sequences of abuse experiences;
 be familiar with different cultural
values and practices and how
(Continued next page)
What's Inside:
Treatment for Parents:
What Works?

E-mail: childlawpractice@staff.abanet.org  *   Internet: http://www.abanet.org.child


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