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What are social workers’ roles in child custody cases?

Louisiana social workers sometimes are asked to enter into sensitive family law cases. A social worker's sole focus in a custody dispute is the best interests of the child. A parent, attorney or the court may ask for a social worker's assistance but throughout the case, the professional remains neutral and objective.

Social workers perform evaluations based on interviews and observations of parties involved with the child custody case. Third parties, like members of an extended family and others in the child's life, also may be interviewed. Reports provided by child caregivers, schools, health care providers and others are reviewed.

Each parent or guardian and child meets with the social worker individually, followed by a full family interview. The social worker will note how parties interact. These meetings are consensual, but not confidential – contents of interviews may be used in reports and testimony before the court, including evidence of child neglect or mistreatment.

Clinical interviews, reports and observations help social workers create a psychological assessment. The mental health professional's report and testimony includes facts and recommendations for child custody and visitations. Emphasis on a child's health and well-being is shared by the court.

Louisiana judges want to make sure a child's needs come above all other considerations. A social worker's input can clarify the types of relationships that exist between the child and each parent and between parents. The court will examine the child's health and social history, as well as the parents' moral fitness, health status and ability to care for the child.

The child's current and proposed living environment will be judged. Courts are looking for permanence and stability. Distance between parents' homes is a factor. In some but not all cases, a child's preference carries weight.

Parents have other child custody options than having a court decide the matter. An attorney can discuss the alternatives with parents in conflict.

Source: Louisiana State Board of Social Work Examiners, "Louisiana State Board of Social Work Examiners: Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations" accessed Feb. 06, 2015

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