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by Leslie M. Drozd, Nancy W. Olesen, & Michael A. Saini
by Leslie M. Drozd, Nancy W. Olesen, & Michael A. Saini

Parenting Plan & Child Custody Evaluations: Using Decision Trees to Increase Evaluator Competence & Avoid Preventable Errors

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• 2013  225 pages in 8½" x 11" large format paperback   ISBN: 9781568871486

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 8½" 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

“Complaints the best interests of the child standard is vague obscure the complexities of a task societies all over the world tackle hundreds of thousands of times each day.  This trio of practitioner/scholars breaks the best interests task into manageable "bite size" chunks, then demonstrates how they relate to the "whole."  By emphasizing organization and process, hypothesis generation and testing, and an awareness of numerous potential distorting biases, Decision Trees outlines a scientific path for evaluating the complex fact scenarios created when parental relationships dissolve and families divorce.  This book creates a replicable model that illuminates how evaluators can think in disciplined ways. It is a "light" that should brighten every evaluator's bookshelf.”    
     -Milfred "Bud" Dale, Ph.D., J.D
., Attorney at Law, Forensic Psychologist, Topeka, Kansas

“This innovative and useful book presents a paradigm shift in the approach to parenting plan evaluations.  Its layout is equally imaginative.  Drozd, Olesen, and Saini begin by offering a comprehensive yet simple description of cognitive errors and then present a systematic process of decision-making through visually accessible decision trees and checklists.  These tools serve to encompass the possible variables and interactions relevant to optimal parenting plans.  The annotated bibliographies at the conclusion of each chapter and the A to Z appendices provide the reader with more information than any book currently on the market.  The application of scientific literature in this book creates a meticulous decision-making model for evaluators, attorneys and judges.”    
     -Robin M. Deutsch
, Ph.D., Director of the Center of Excellence for Children, Families and the Law, Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology

"This thoughtful, well-organized and painstakingly referenced volume may well be the quintessential handbook for the conscientious family lawyer.  It provides a wealth of data and a well-reasoned critical examination of many pitfalls which sometimes plague otherwise well intentioned parenting plan assessments.  The authors not only give us the standards for the scientific analysis we prize from our court appointed experts, but afford an analytical framework that is clear and easy to follow.  The decision tree methodology is invaluable for lawyer or judge seeking to understand and critically analyze the evaluation process.  This book is destined to become an essential resource in the quest for scientific understanding of family dynamics as they affect the needs and best interest of children.”     
     -Donald S. Eisenberg
, Certified Family Law Specialist, Long Beach, CA

“Drozd, Olesen, and Saini have done what no one has done before.  Of the three key aspects of parenting plan evaluations, gathering data, analyzing data and presentation of data, we have modest guidance of the gathering and presentation aspects.  The more complex analysis of the data has up until this book been hidden from view and lacking any rigour.  Their systematic approach to analysis is ground-breaking and a major contribution to the field. It is also significant to note that as Drozd did with her earlier book (edited with Kuehnle) “Parenting Plan Evaluations”, they have also modernized the term custody evaluations to parenting plan evaluations.”
     -Lorraine Martin, MSW RSW, Private Practice, Retired Clinical Coordinator, Office of the Children’s Lawyer, Toronto, Canada

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
Maria, Timothy, and family: Matrix II (Inferences) & Matrix III (Parenting Plan Recommendations)
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.

CE Program
A supplemental 7-credit, 70 question continuing education program is available for this book.  To order the complete program (this book and CE test module, or test module alone if you already have access to this book), click here: Parenting Plan & Child Custody Evaluations - CE Program (7 Credits)

For information about our approved continuing education sponsorships
and acceptance by state boards, go to:
Continuing Education

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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