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Child Abuse Reporting Laws and Attorney-Client Privilege: Ethical Dilemmas and Practical Suggestions for the Forensic Psychologist

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice Volume: 6 Issue: 4 Dated: 2006 Pages: 55-68
Susan R. Hall J.D., Ph.D.
Date Published
14 pages
This article discusses the legal, ethical, and moral dilemmas faced by forensic psychologists who, during an evaluation for an attorney, discover information that would warrant making a child abuse report.
In all cases in which there is an issue related to child abuse reporting, the forensic psychologist should consult privately with at least one trusted, knowledgeable colleague. Second, the psychologist should obtain the advice and opinion of an attorney unconnected to the case. Third, the psychologist should discuss the conflict with the hiring attorney, so as to help the attorney achieve an alliance with the client to reduce the risk of abuse (e.g., hospitalization). This would be followed by a consultation regarding other potential legal resolutions (e.g., the attorney resigning from the case). Fourth, the psychologist should seek a ruling from the judge regarding what to do or not do in the case. One resolution might be to limit the scope of the reporting in some manner (e.g., reporting the case to child protective services but without including reported information in the testimony). A number of these issues highlight the need for legislative clarification on the attorney-client privilege and mandatory child abuse reporting laws. In the meantime, forensic psychologists and the attorneys who hire them for client evaluations should discuss the ethical and legal complications that would arise in evaluations that reveal the client is abusing a child. This discussion and the recommendations offered are drawn from a review of the legal and psychological literatures regarding the development and current status of mandatory child abuse reporting laws as well as the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work product doctrine. 37 references