The assessment of parenting is a core child protection task, both in context of assessing parents’ capacity to protect children from risk and enhance their developmental experiences as well as in the decisions about removing and/ or restoring children to the care of their parents.
There is a difference between “parenting ability” and “parenting capacity”. Parenting ability is defined as the child caretaker’s current parenting strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, parenting capacity refers to be a child caretaker’s potential for parenting in future (i. e. the potential for improvement in parenting ability). The concept and assessment of parenting capacity, then, includes the concept and assessment of parenting ability, as well as an estimate of likely capacity for change in respect to parenting.
Therefore, ‘Parenting capacity’ is the ability to parent in ‘good enough’ manner on a long term basis. Hence, It is different from ‘parenting ability’ where an individual may be able to parent for a short period of time in specific circumstances but not have the capacity to parent effectively long term.
Parenting capacity varies at different points in time depending on the circumstances facing parents and their children. Competent parenting is about adaptability to the changing requirements and circumstances of the child. The assessment describes patterns of parent’s functioning in adult and child rearing roles. An effort is made to explain the reasons for the problematic behaviour leading to the child protection concerns. It also identifies the functioning of child, their needs and risks in relation to the parent’s deficits. An important goal is to provide directions for intervention to meet the best interests of children. Parenting capacity is not seen as fixed but as undergoing constant change.
The judge decides what information is needed and orders the assessment in most cases. In many cases, child welfare agencies also recommend parents to be assessed for parenting capacity. The judge / Court request an objective assessment of the needs of the children and each parent's ability to meet those needs. Instructions are given to the assessor concerning the matters at issue in either custody, access or both. Courts in Ontario generally expect the value recommendations from court- ordered assessors in child protection cases, though always emphasize that a court is never bound by the opinion of any assessor or any other witness. The recommendation of assessor, therefore, is not determinative. It is one more piece of puzzle. The judge will weigh the assessor’s report with all the other evidence in coming to his or her own decision in the case. The "best interests of the child" remains the primary concern of psychologists regardless of the specific role they play, or the specific interests of the adult parties, who usually contract and pay for the assessment. The goal is to come up with a plan/ recommendations for the care of children involved.
Child Custody and Access Assessment:
Parental divorce requires a restructuring of parental rights and responsibilities but parents are sometimes unable to jointly reach such an agreement. In that event, psychologists may be ordered by the Court or contracted by parents or their legal counsel to undertake assessments regarding children's custody and access arrangements. Thus, child Custody and Access assessment is an investigation to determine the best parenting arrangements for children when there is a disagreement on the issues pertaining to the custody and access.