Utilizing Psychological Evaluations in Delinquency Proceedings

Using Psychological
Evaluations in Delinquency
How to wade through the
gobbledygook and psychobabble
In this presentation we have attempted to provide some
general information about the use of psychological
evaluations in delinquency proceedings. Although we have
tried to anticipate as many questions as possible we will,
undoubtedly, not cover all areas of concern. With that,
don’t get lockjaw during the presentation. Questions and
discussions are good and there may be a prize for the
person with the most original question(s). Popcorn and
drinks will be available at the snack bar.
Enjoy the Show!
Types of Evaluations Commonly
Seen in Delinquency Proceedings
 Psychological: Provides a general overview of intellectual,
emotional, social and family functioning. Typically includes
comments on amenability to treatment/intervention, protective
factors, treatment needs, academic needs, etc.
 Risk Assessment: Can be performed alone or in the context of a
psychological evaluation. Typically utilized with adolescents
being adjudicated on ‘crime against person’ charges
 Psychosexual/Sexual Behavior Risk Assessment: Utilized to assess
risk of re-offense and provide information for use in disposition
and treatment planning
 Competency: Provides information regarding the child’s
competence to stand trial
What’s the purpose of the evaluation
 Assessing disposition
 Placement
 Treatment
 mens rea
 Because each proceeding is different the evaluation needs
to address the issue(s) in question, e.g., a risk assessment will
provide little information on treatment needs for a child
referred for shoplifting
 When possible make sure the evaluation is going to provide
the appropriate/needed information before it’s performed
 Participate in developing and asking questions before the
evaluation is conducted
PhD, LCSW, MD or What?
 Know the evaluator’s qualifications
 Although State licensing statues differ, the following
generally apply;
 Psychologists (PhD) administer and interpret psychological
testing. They can provide diagnosis and treatment but, in
most states, cannot prescribe medication
 Social Workers (LCSW) typically focus on social and family
issues. They do not administer and interpret psychological
testing but do provide diagnosis and treatment
 Psychiatrists (MD) typically provide pharmacologic
intervention and management. They occasionally provide
forensic assessments to the Court and provide diagnosis and
What areas should be addressed in a
‘competent’ psychological evaluation
 Intellectual Ability: Yields an ‘IQ’ score that allows for
comparison of a child’s intellectual ability against
children of a similar age.
 Academic Ability/Achievement: Provides estimate of
how a child is doing academically relative to others of
the same age, i.e., is a seventh grader doing seventh
grade math?
 Emotional/Personality: Provides overview of specific and
general personality traits & characteristics and, in some
cases, indices of emotional disorders, e.g., depression,
anxiety, psychosis, etc.
 Family, Social, Medical History: Typically obtained from
direct interview and review of collateral information.
Intellectual Assessment
 For most instruments the ‘mean’ score is 100 and
standard deviation is 10
 90-109 is considered ‘average,’ 70-79 is ‘borderline,’ 80-89
is ‘low average,’ 110-119 is ‘above average,’ 120-129 is
‘high’ and 130 & above is ‘gifted.’
 68% of the population falls in the average range
Tests Commonly Used to Assess
Intellectual Ability
 Most achievement tests provide age and grade
equivalent scores that measure a child’s academic skills
relative to peers, e.g., a grade equivalent score of 4.6
typically equates to a child who is 6 months into the 4th
 Achievement test scores are used in conjunction with
intellectual assessment instruments to qualify children for
special services, e.g., intellectually impaired, specific
learning problems, etc.
Tests commonly used to assess
Wechsler Individual
Achievement Test-III
Age Range
Kaufman Test of
Educational Achievement-II
Wide Range Achievement
Provides age and grade level scores for reading,
math, writing and five other areas identified by
IDEA legislation to identify learning problems
Assesses general intellectual ability as well as
specific cognitive abilities, oral language and
academic achievement (most widely used by
schools to qualify kids for resource services)
Brief and comprehensive versions provide scores
for use in identifying academic skills and learning
Measures basic academic skills of reading, spelling
and math
 Designed to provide information about personality traits
and characteristics, e.g., impulsivity, aggression, anxiety,
 Objective vs. Subjective: Objective tests are most
common, e.g., MMPI. Typically self-report and scored
against normative group. Subjective are less common
but used in some areas, e.g., Rorschach. They typically
rely on ‘free association’ responses and are not scored
against a normative group, i.e., scored by evaluator
 All self report inventories require different reading skills
that must be accounted for in administration
 Innumerable tests are available and use varies by
evaluator preference, experience and location
Commonly used personality tests
 Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-Adolescent
(MMPI-A): 12 to 18, 7th grade reading level, 478 items
 Millon Adolescent Clinical Inventory (MACI): 13-19, 6th
grade reading level, 160 items
 Millon Adolescent Personality Inventory: 13-18, 6th grade
reading level, 150 items
 Personality Inventory for Youth (PIY): 12-18, 3rd grade
reading level, 270 items
 Personality Inventory for Children (PIC):
 Beck Youth Inventories: 7-18, 4th grade reading level, 100
Family, Social and Medical History
 Family history: Helps understand the child’s context, i.e.,
raised by birth/step parents, immediate extended family
members, siblings, abused and/or exposed to domestic
violence, etc. Obtained from direct interview and
collateral information
 Social/Educational History: School(s) attended, peers,
extracurricular activities, academic success/failure,
bullied or bully, work history, behavior problems in school,
placement in resource, etc. Obtained from direct
interview and collateral information
 Medical History: Any problems with pregnancy,
developmental milestones, acute/chronic medical
problems, family history of physical mental illness, etc.
Obtained from direct interview and collateral information
Court Appointed vs. Privately
Retained Evaluations
 Court Appointed: In most cases, both counsel should have
access to the evaluator prior to completion of the evaluation to
provide input with regard to what questions should be posed
for the evaluation
 Privately Retained: In most cases there will be an apriori
agreement that all information obtained by the evaluator will
be consider attorney work product
 The limits of confidentiality for the evaluation should be
determined before the evaluation is conducted. If they are not,
your client’s rights may not be fully protected
Protecting Your Client’s Rights
 Pre-adjudicative vs. Post-adjudicative: Pre-A evaluations
run the risk of violating a child’s rights, i.e., saying
something that may incriminate them, e.g., if the
evaluator asks about the referring offense(s) and the
child reveals something they shouldn’t, it could be used
against them, particularly in states with mandatory
reporting laws. When these evaluations are requested by
the Court, make sure the parameters of what can and
cannot be discussed are established before the
evaluation is conducted
 Post-adjudicative: Less likely to have problems with selfincriminating statements but the limits of confidentiality
should be established beforehand
Now that you’ve got it, what do
you do with it?
 Read it, don’t just look at the last page
 Evaluate if the data and conclusions support the
suggestions/recommendations, e.g., if a child has an IQ of
130 a recommendation shouldn’t be made that they
receive resource services in school
 Evaluate if the suggestions/recommendations answer the
questions posed for the evaluation and if meet the child’s
 Determine if the evaluation will add to or detract from the
Court’s understanding of the child
 If the report is competent familiarize yourself with the data
and conclusions and be prepared to argue for your client’s
best interest
What if the report is Incompetent?
 If you have questions about the validity/veracity of an
evaluation contact the evaluator and question anything
you don’t understand or that seems vague
 Challenge ‘psychobabble’ which, according to
Wikipedia is defined as “. . . a form of speech or writing
that uses psychological jargon, buzzwords, and esoteric
language to create an impression of truth or plausibility.
The term implies that the speaker or writer lacks the
experience and understanding necessary for the proper
use of psychological terms. Additionally, it may imply that
the content of speech deviates markedly from common
sense and good judgment.”
 It’s never a bad idea to have a relationship with an
evaluator you can consult with when you get a
questionable evaluation

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