Expert Testimony: The Mental Health Professional as Witness

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The Children’s Law Center and the Judicial Education Center in New Mexico have published a “Child Welfare Handbook (2007)” to educate judges, attorneys, and caseworkers on facilitating the child’s path from abuse to permanence. The purpose and importance of a bonding study are described in Chapter 37.13: “A bonding study should stand alone and be requested because it makes a unique contribution. The bonding issue in permanency planning is the extent to which the parent is capable of caring for the child from the perspective of bonding and attachment. The bonding study draws data from observation, from social and interpersonal reports, and from cognitive and emotional assessments.” More details about how to perform a thorough and presentable bonding assessment are provided in Chapter Nine.

A psychologist or other expert witness on bonding should be available to testify on the results of the assessment. (See Chapter Nine.) The attorney should qualify the evaluator as an expert witness on bonding, then walk him or her through the report, detailing each proof of bonding, asking specifically if the child exhibits the types of behavior which would satisfy the definition’s components, presenting the statistics on what happens when bonding is interrupted, and asking the expert for an opinion as to whether bonding has occurred.

Scholarly articles on bonding can and should be presented to the court to educate the judge about these matters. These articles may be included as part of the expert’s testimony, and should include research on the harm done when bonded relationships are interrupted. Many such articles are listed in the Reference section of this book. The foster parents’ attorney should be aware of the rules of evidence in the relevant jurisdiction to ensure that such articles can withstand anticipated objections and be admitted into evidence.