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Termination of Parental Rights

Chronic abuse in a parent-child relationship, abandonment by a parent, chronic substance abuse or mental illness, or other evidence that a parent is unfit, and has not made a successful effort to follow the recommendations made to reunify parent and child, may lead to a court hearing to terminate all parental rights, despite objections from the parent. Psychologists are often asked to complete evaluations of parents and children, as well as bonding evaluations to assess the parent-child relationship, to make recommendations to the court regarding termination of parental rights. The best interests of the child is the legal standard to be followed, so it must be determined whether the child will be better off without any contact with his or her parent. Often, the court is also evaluating the potential adoption of the child by another family, but the issue of termination of parental rights should be considered separately before adoption is considered. 

The psychologist must examine the original cause for removing the child, review all treatment records, and records of efforts made to repair the family problems and reunite parent and child, to understand the progress or lack of progress in making change over several years. Clinical evaluation of the parent and child, followed by psychological testing to assess personality variables and possible psychopathology must be intensive and thorough because this is a serious and permanent change in the lives of both the parent and the child. The psychologist may be asked to complete this evaluation by the court, by the child protection agency, or in defense of the parent facing termination of parental rights. In all cases, the psychologist is obligated to consider the best interests of the child as the legal criteria to be followed, regardless of who contracts for the psychological evaluation. What is best for the child is most important.

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