Forensic evaluation of trauma syndromes in children

Roy Lubit, Nancy Hartwell, Wilfred G van Gorp, Spencer Eth
Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America 2002, 11 (4): 823-57
There are significant differences between a clinical evaluation and a forensic evaluation [289-291]. These differences must be kept solidly in mind in performing the evaluation. The forensic evaluator needs to assess the validity of complaints, including the possibility of malingering and the child's ability to describe symptoms accurately, the connection between the symptoms and a given incident, and the potential long-term sequelae of a trauma. The goal of the interview is not to treat, but to obtain information. Assessing the validity of complaints is perhaps the greatest challenge. This requires obtaining and reconciling data from numerous sources, including interviews with the child and parents, and information from other sources, as well as rating scales and validity testing. One must be very cautious in asking leading questions and using standardized PTSD protocols, lest they teach the parents and child about the symptoms of PTSD and thereby distort the information they provide as a result. The forensic interviewer should consider what will be needed when called to testify in court. What data will convince the jury? How might the opposing attorney challenge the assessment? What scientific studies support the findings and conclusions concerning the diagnosis, functional impairment, and validity. The precise DSM-IV-TR diagnosis is not always key in a forensic evaluation. What is essential is establishing the connection between the trauma and ensuing emotional problems. All of the symptoms the individual has as a result of the trauma become important, whether or not they contribute to fulfillment of DSM-IV-TR criteria. This contrasts with a clinical evaluation in which one needs to demonstrate the existence of a DSM-IV-TR diagnosis for reimbursement purposes. Finally, the forensic evaluator should be familiar with current practice guidelines for examination of children with PTSD. Any deviation may need to be explained in court [264,292].

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