Parenting capacity: An analysis of parenting capacity assessment in the Children’s Court of New South Wales

Sheila Gray

PhD thesis, conferred 2016

The Children’s Court of New South Wales is a specialised institution in legal decision-making regarding children and parents subject to statutory child protection intervention. The Children’s Court Clinic of New South Wales provides the forensic assessment reports, which evaluate the parenting capacity of adults about whom protective concerns exist.

The research uses de-identified clinical assessment reports prepared by Authorised Clinicians within the Children’s Court Clinic. The research evaluates the nature of the work referred to the Children’s Court Clinic and the content of assessment reports in parenting capacity. The study utilises the methodology of grounded theory principles and forensic practice guidelines to analyse the issues relevant to the written reports completed in this legal setting. The assessment issues considered significant by the Children’s Court are illustrated using grounded theory principles. These assessment issues are then explored through the content of analysis contained within a sample of reports. The analytical process of the Authorised Clinicians is then considered in more detail through the theme of the parental capacity to change and the core concept of insight. This theme is illustrated through a detailed discussion of clinical assessment practice, in terms of the specific issues of a parent’s family history, the relevance of culture and the analysis of interventions within the reports. The assessment reports are then evaluated using forensic practice guidelines. The characteristics and limitations of parenting capacity assessment within this context are illustrated with reference to specific practice guidelines. Two crucial priorities are identified in the assessment task and these are the distillation of risk issues and the use of formal forensic practice guidelines. The broader issues emerging from this study are then evaluated. These issues include the situational tensions inherent within the forensic assessment context, the nature of interdisciplinary practice and recommendations for future research.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Lesley Laing