In California, there are many obstacles facing mental health professionals aspiring to become child custody evaluators. Specifically, many child custody evaluators (CCEs)-in-training find it difficult to locate and obtain the “hands on” experience and supervision needed to meet the minimum qualifications listed in California Rules of Court 5.225(d). Additionally, many less experienced CCEs find it challenging to secure on-going consultation needed to develop and sustain competency in the field even after they have met the Court’s requirements. Aware of these obstacles, the AFCC‐CA Board of Directors has been very interested in developing an action plan.
At the February 2015 AFCC-CA conference in Costa Mesa, many members expressed an interest in supporting early career professionals
in their efforts to provide high quality child custody evaluations. Following up on that fruitful conversation, the Board of Directors of AFCC-CA has established a mentoring program to be fostered by a committee comprised of board and non-board members. After the establishment of the mentoring program, the Mentorship Committee developed a survey to help identify those experienced (“senior”) evaluators who would be willing to provide mentoring, supervision, and/or consultation, as well as those who are earlier in their careers who are interested in providing court-ordered services and expanding their custody evaluation skills.
The mentorship survey was sent to all chapter members via e-mail in January 2016, with follow-up at the recent 2016 annual conference in San Francisco. A total of 54 chapter members responded to the survey. Several important questions were asked to help the Mentorship Committee reach the aforementioned goals. First, respondents were asked how many years of experience they had as a custody evaluator. The results are listed on Table 1 as follows: 62% of respondents reported that they had more than 20 years of experience as a child custody evaluator; 12% of respondents reported that they had less than 20 years of experience but more than 15 years. Another 12% reported that they were interested in a career as a CCE. A total of 8% reported less than 5 years. Lastly, no one reported that they were currently a CCE‐in-training.
Thus, it is clear that there is a huge disparity in the number of senior (i.e., 20 years of experience or more) CCEs and less experienced CCEs who responded to the Mentorship Survey. However, efforts are underway to address this disparity, as there is clear interest among more experienced evaluators to help shepherd younger professionals along in the process. Specifically, senior CCEs were asked whether they would be willing to provide mentorship, supervision and consultation to CCEs in training and less experienced CCEs. The results are listed on Table 2 as follows: 66% of senior CCEs reported that they would be wiling to provide mentorship, consultation or supervision to CCEs in training and/or less experienced CCEs; 27% responded that they might be willing (i.e., “Maybe”) to provide some form of mentorship, consultation and/or direct supervision to less experienced CCEs. Only, 7% of senior CCEs reported that would not be interested in providing mentorship, consultation and/or supervision to CCEs in training and/or less experienced CCEs. Of those senior CCEs who stated they would not be willing to provide mentorship, consultation and/or supervision, their concern revolved around “liability issues” and/or “not having the time.”
When the senior CCEs were asked what level of service they would like to provide to CCEs in training and less experienced CCEs, they responded as follows on Table 3: 38% reported they would prefer providing periodic consultation to less experienced CCEs; 28% reported they would prefer providing periodic mentorship to CCEs in training and/or less experienced CCES; 27% reported they would prefer providing direct individual supervision on an ongoing basis to CCEs-intraining. Only, 7% reported they would prefer providing individual supervision to CCEs-in-training.
In summary, the data presented in this article are promising but also concerning. CCEs in training and less experienced CCEs, have found it difficult to acquire the much needed experience to establish and maintain sufficient levels of competency and expertise as a forensic mental health professional (“MHP”) in the family law milieu. Also, many senior CCEs in California are reaching the stage of their career where they are beginning to wind things down. Consequently, many CCEs are reducing their CCE caseload. Family law courts in California will need a new generation of highly qualified and well-trained CCEs in order to continue to support children and their families involved in custody disputes and other family law matters. Among the promising aspects of the survey is that many senior CCEs are very much invested in providing a legacy to younger professionals. They express concern about trends in our field but definite interest in passing down their expertise and knowledge to the next generation of CCEs.
The Mentorship Committee will be using these findings to develop an active program in diverse parts of the state. We strongly urge you to get involved! If you can take a more active role in your professional community, or want to get connected with others who are trying to address these critical issues, contact us, especially as we are developing structures and a supportive network. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.