Merrimack Valley Trauma Services (MVTS) offers comprehensive, forensically sound, trauma evaluations for children and adolescents (ages 4 to 18 years). A trauma evaluation provides a neutral, non-judgmental environment in which the child can report any incident(s) of trauma he/she has observed or any incident(s) in which he/she has been a participant. Evaluators are specifically trained to be non-directive, in order to minimize our impact on the credibility and validity of the information reported by the child, and use forensically-sound, developmentally appropriate assessment and interview techniques, based on the Guidelines for the Clinical Evaluation for Child and Adolescent Sexual Abuse (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) and components from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Investigative Interview and Protocol.
Trauma Evaluation Goals
The purposes of these evaluations vary, but may assess any or all of the following:
- To determine the likelihood that the child has been sexually abused and/or exploited;
- To determine the type(s) of trauma the child has been exposed to, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic violence, exposure to community violence, and/or exposure to parental substance abuse;
- To understand the origin and function of the child’s behavior(s) of concern and the child’s perception of the trauma they experienced, along with the impact on their mental health, and social-emotional, educational, cognitive, and family functioning;
- To assess a parent or caregiver’s ability to recognize the impact of trauma and abuse on their child;
- To assess a parent or caregiver’s ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their child and prevent further abuse;
- To assess the parent or caregiver’s ability and willingness to understand and practice appropriate boundaries and interpersonal relationships within the family, utilize appropriate supervision practices, and provide age-appropriate expectations, limitations, consequences, structure, and other parenting practices to support a child’s social and emotional well-being;
- To assess the extent to which a parent or caregiver is willing and able to utilize formal and informal community supports to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of their child or children;
- To provide clinical treatment recommendations for the child and family, including those which may inform permanency planning, to help strengthen skills and empower caregivers to maintain children safely at home, and/or to provide trauma-informed strategies for reunification of the child who resides in an out-of-home placement; and
- To develop a treatment plan that addresses the multiple factors of trauma and victimization.
Trauma Evaluation Process and Service Components
Under ideal circumstances, the evaluation consists of the following:
- Initial consultation with the referral source to discuss the goals of the evaluation, their relationship with the child/adolescent and his/her family, family history and allegations, and current providers involved. Initial consultation includes providing information for DSS staff regarding how the adults closest to the child/adolescent can explain the evaluation to him/her and minimize their influence over the child, during the trauma evaluation process, in order to support the credibility of the evaluation.
- Intake session with the caregiver(s) who currently have physical custody of the child/adolescent, in order to gather information and establish expectations for their involvement in the evaluation process. This intake session includes information and coaching for the caregiver(s) regarding how he/she can explain the evaluation to the child/adolescent and minimize their influence over the child, during the trauma evaluation process, in order to support the credibility of the evaluation.
- In-person parent interviews. The number of appointments depends on the specific caregivers (biological parents, foster parents, kinship parents) involved and the circumstances of the case.
- In-person interviews with siblings and other family members, as appropriate.
- Telephone consultation/interviews with DSS workers, teachers, pediatricians, mental health providers, and other professionals who have knowledge of the case/family.
- Three to five in-person evaluation sessions (ideally two appointments per week) with the child/adolescent.
- Review of all pertinent documentation and reports from the Department of Social Services, Department of Juvenile Justice, medical staff, law enforcement, mental health clinicians, schools, and other providers. These include 51A and 51B reports, assessments, family service plans, police reports, medical records, psychological assessments, mental health records, and academic testing and placement records.
- Up to one (1) month to formulate and complete the trauma evaluation report, which includes all contacts and documentation reviewed, a comprehensive clinical formulation of the child/adolescent and his/her parent(s), and treatment recommendations. See Page 3 for additional details.
- Follow up consultation for DSS staff and/or court testimony, if requested.
Possible Reasons for Ending a Trauma Evaluation
The following conditions may lead the evaluator to suspend or discontinue the evaluation process if she learns or believes:
- The child/adolescent is not residing in a safe environment,
- The child/adolescent has contact with the reported/suspected perpetrator (including phone calls, emails, text messages, contact through social media, etc.),
- The child/adolescent’s current mental status is unstable and he/she is not able to participate in an evaluation,
- The child/adolescent is experiencing significant changes in his/her life (i.e., change in custody, visitation, or reunification), and/or
- The child/adolescent is experiencing a medical condition that could reduce the credibility of a trauma evaluation.
Merrimack Valley Trauma Services reserves the right to refuse to begin or complete an evaluation if the evaluator believes that contact with an alleged perpetrator or another factor in the case is detrimental to the child/adolescent’s well-being. We also reserve the right to end an evaluation if there is an immediate threat to the safety or well-being of the evaluator and/or clients or staff at Merrimack Valley Trauma Services.
How Can a Trauma Evaluation Report Be Used?
1. Permanency Planning and Reunification Planning:
Our reports help DSS staff and administrators understand the extent to which a child/adolescent has been exposed to trauma, trauma’s impact on the child, and what specific treatment interventions are needed. They also help DSS staff and administrators understand the role(s) in which caregivers played in the child’s trauma, steps parents have/have not taken to protect their child, safety considerations for the future, and the extent to which caregivers understand their child’s experiences and take responsibility for their child’s exposure to the trauma.
2. Legal Reasons:
Our reports assist other forensic evaluators, law enforcement, attorneys, guardian ad litems (GAL’s), and DSS staff in determining the child’s view of the traumatic experience(s), what is in the best interest of the child in terms of visitation, living arrangements, and supports needed, as well as the likelihood parents/caregivers are able to keep their child safe in the future.
3. Mental Health Treatment Planning:
Our reports provide important clinical information to the child/adolescent’s treatment team about the child’s experiences with caregivers which led to DSS involvement, help the team understand the child/adolescent’s perspective regarding the trauma they have experienced, and provide specific trauma-focused interventions and approaches to be used with both the child/adolescent and family, in order to ensure optimal progress toward goals.