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Parenting Plan & Child Custody Evaluations: Using Decision Trees to Increase Evaluator Competence & Avoid Preventable Errors
Leslie Drozd, Nancy Olesen and Michael Saini
Professional Resource Press / Softcover / May 2013
9781568871486 (ISBN-10: 1568871481)
Family Mediation / Forensic
reg price: $73.95 our price: $ 59.16
250 pages
In Stock (Ships within one business day)

The three authors are active custody and parenting plan evaluators, teach workshops on custody evaluations and parenting, and review reports prepared by other evaluators. Their experience has made them acutely aware of the flaws that appear in some evaluations despite the development of professional association guidelines and standards, on-going continuing education programs on these topics, and increasing demands from the courts and attorneys for evaluations of the highest quality.

This book is about developing systematic ways to improve the processes evaluators use to create and test hypotheses, collect information, organize the information evaluators have, and analyze the data in a transparent and comprehensive way. The authors also share an interest in visual ways to organize information in these evaluations: charts, decision trees, and grids. They include many reproducible 8 ½" X 11" checklists and tools to reduce human biases and errors and to improve the accuracy of decision making. They believe that the processes they describe may mirror the process used by judicial officers in sorting and weighing evidence, creating clusters of factors around issues, and generating decisions based on the overall evidence presented in court. These tools were "field tested" in the authors' practice and teaching, and they believe the consistency and transparency of decision making has increased with the aid of these tools.

Throughout the book, the deliberate use of the term parenting plan evaluation (PPE) rather than child custody evaluation is more than just semantics or an attempt to further confuse the field with yet another new term. The authors strongly believe that it is critical for those who work with families to emphasize the importance of parenting over the ownership implications of determining custody. Although both terms are used interchangeably throughout the book to be consistent with previous writings, the term parenting plan evaluations is used in the development of the resources that have been created to make better parenting plan decisions.


"If the parenting plan evaluator uses the scientific method described by these authors, s/he will make judges, attorneys and parents (if not happy) satisfied that the analysis of all the data produced by the parents and their counsel was thoughtful and thorough and transparent. In addition, it will assist the evaluator in confronting his/her own biases and short cut thinking. It is not just the evaluator who can benefit from this process: judges and lawyers should consider consciously adopting this method to better their own decision making."
-Marjorie A. Slabach, JD, retired judicial officer, presided over Family Court in San Francisco Superior Court 1997-2011

"Drozd, Olesen, & Saini have integrated aspects of current research on cognitive errors and applied this knowledge in a superb manner to assist child custody evaluators to think more clearly and with greater awareness of the ways in which personal and professional biases may interfere with our ability to produce the best work product we can. Their application of the "fast and slow" thinking paradigm and their development of checklists and flow charts to help guide us toward more systematic examination of our thinking are challenging, new, and welcome additions to the child custody literature."
-Jonathan W. Gould, Ph.D., ABPP, Diplomate in Forensic Psychology, Charlotte, NC, author of Conducting Scientifically-Crafted Child Custody Evaluations (2nd Ed) and co-author of The Art and Science of Child Custody Evaluations

Table of Contents

Chapter 1
Cognitive Errors and Paradigm Shifts
I. Common errors
A. Procedural Errors
B. Systematic
C. Assertion
II. Cognitive Errors and Biases
A. Research on cognitive errors
B. Specific errors & biases: Confirmatory bias, premature disclosure of evidence seeking, anchoring, optimism
bias, disaster neglect, and availability heuristic
III. Parenting Plan Evaluator's Cognitive Error Checklist
IV. Summary
V. Annotated bibliography
Chapter 2
Road Map for Working with Parenting Plan Complexity
I. Introduction: A road map for understanding the complexity of parenting plan evaluations
II. Roadmap: A picture
A. Preparation & planning
a. Filling up the research tank
b. Accepting the case
c. Data planning
B. Hypotheses & decision trees: How to form hypotheses and make a decision tree
C. Data collection
D. Analysis & synthesis into parenting plan recommendations
E. Review, consult, revise
III. Strengths and limitations of the parenting plan evaluation road map approach: How does this process help
offset cognitive errors and improve transparency and decision making?
IV. Summary
V. Annotated bibliography
Chapter 3
Paradigm Shift: Embracing Complexity in a Real Case
I. Preparation and planning
A. Be prepared and up to date:
B. Identification and sources of obtaining data
C. Initial Data: The Case of Maria, Timothy, and Children
II. Hypotheses and decision trees
A. Formation of hypotheses
B. Making a decision tree
III. Summary
IV. Annotated bibliography
Chapter 4
Ongoing Data Collection
I. Standard data collection
A. Methods
B. Recording
C. Anchored in research
II. Continuing data collection in the case of Maria, Timothy, & family
III. Reflecting during the evaluation: Revised hypotheses and decision tree
IV. Summary
V. Annotated bibliography
Chapter 5
The Data Matrix: Organizing the Data
I. Introduction
II. Levels of inference
A. Definitions
B. Learning to use the levels of inference
III. Parenting Plan Evaluation Matrix: Organizing the data
C. Working with the PPE Matrix
D. Maria, Timothy, & children case example
IV. Identifying themes that integrate facts & conclusions
V. Summary
VI. Annotated bibliography
Chapter 6
Connections and Synthesis
I. Introduction
II. Updating hypotheses & the decision tree
III. Parenting Plan Evaluation Matrix: Summary, Analysis, & Synthesis
A. Working with the PPE Matrix: II
B. The family of Maria, Timothy, & family
IV. Creating themes that integrate the facts and conclusions and lead to parenting plan recommendations
V. The interactional nature of the analysis
VI. Summary
Chapter 7
Finishing the Synthesis: Making Parenting Plan Recommendations
I. Parenting plan recommendations for Maria, Timothy, & family
A. Summary of factors not considered to date
B. Maria, Timothy, and family: Matrix II (Inferences) & Matrix III (Parenting Plan Recommendations)
II. General considerations in parenting plan recommendations
III. Summary
IV. Annotated bibliography
Chapter 8
Review, Revisit, Revise
I. Introduction
II. Reviewing the process and revising when needed
A. The importance of crosschecking
III. Writing the report
A. Framing the report to avoid shaming
B. Vetting the report
C. Reporting the limitations of the evaluation
D. Practice tips for report writing
IV. Post evaluation road map approach: Testimony and critiquing others
V. Considerations and cautions: Time and duration, cost, capacity, ethical responsibility and use of tools
VI. Summary
VII. Annotated bibliography
I. Appendix chapter: Research
II. Glossary
III. References
IV. Misc. Charts, Tools, etc.

About the Authors

Leslie Drozd, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and marriage, family, and child therapist in Newport Beach. She is the editor of the International Journal of Child Custody and co-editor with Kathryn Kuehnle of Parenting Plan Evaluations: Applied Research for Family Court (Oxford University Press). She has co-edited other books on relocation, psychological testing, and child sexual abuse and written chapters on domestic violence, treatment of trauma, alienation, and unification therapy. Dr. Drozd has been a child custody evaluator for over 20 years, trains other evaluators, serves as a consultant to attorneys, and as a testifying expert in family law matters. She has helped write the AFCC Model Standards for conducting child custody evaluations and for those parenting plan evaluations involving allegations of domestic violence. She also works clinically with families in the various stages of divorce including co-parenting therapy, family therapy, unification therapy, and parent coordinator. Dr. Drozd has spoken at conferences on these topics in America, Canada, and Europe.

Nancy W. Olesen, PhD, graduated in psychology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and earned a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She has conducted hundreds of child custody and dependency evaluations for the courts in California over more than 25 years and has provided expert testimony in child custody cases throughout California and other states. Dr. Olesen has taught many courses in best practices in child custody evaluation for professionals in California, nationwide and abroad, including the mandatory training required for court appointed evaluators. In addition she has taught the course for judges, attorneys, and mediators on child custody special issues such as child abuse, alienation, domestic violence and attachment .

Michael A. Saini, PhD, is an Associate Professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto and the Course Director of the 40-hour Foundations to Custody Evaluations at the University of Toronto. For the past 14 years, he has been conducting custody evaluations and assisting children's counsel for the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, Ministry of the Attorney General in Ontario. He has over 50 publications, including books, book chapters, government reports, systematic reviews and peer-reviewed journal articles. He is an editorial board member for the Family Court Review, the Journal of Child Custody, Research for Social Work Practice and Oxford Bibliographies Online. As well, he is a peer reviewer for 10 peer-reviewed journals and 4 international funding organizations.

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