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Psychology and the Law
Consider the different ways psychology and the law work together and what roles forensic psychologists play in the legal system. How does this amicus brief reflect the balance between psychology and law? How does this report reflect the ways forensic psychologists work within the legal system while remaining separate from it?
The amicus report on Arnes Orbison reflects the balance between psychology and law; it demostrates how forensic psychologists can work within the legal system while remaining separate from it at the same time. In this report a licensed psychologist by the name of Doctor William M. Barter is brought in to use his skills as a psychologist to consult on the permanency plan for Arnes Orbison. Dr. Barter consulted on placement questions such as: “what, if any, would be the impact (long or short term) to Arnes to remove him from his current placement with the Jellison family, and how could any impact be minimized or removed in making the move to the relatives home”, “what would be the nature and quality of the attachment to his biological half brother”, and “what, if any, impact would a move to his relatives have on that attachment and on Arnes both long and short term; and if the move was made to his relatives home, how to best maintain that relationship/attachment and lessen any impact to this child”.
During Dr. Barter’s consultation on the permanency plan for Arnes Orbison he works with DHHS Supervisor Alexis Mussie, yet during his interaction he only offers information on the questions pertaining to the psychological elements of the case. At no time does he speak on legal matters; in this way Dr. Barter works within the legal system while remaining separate from it. This amicus report on Arnes Orbison shows how in certain cases a balance between psychology and law is needed. Dr. Barter does not have the training nor knowledge on how to deal with the legal matters of the case while DHHS Supervisor Alexis Mussie does not have the knowledge or skill set needed to evaluate the impact a home change could have on a child from a psychological perspective. To have the knowledge necessary to place the child in the appropriate home a balance between psychology and the law is needed.
The Amicus Report on Arnes Orbison
Name: Arnes Orbison
Date of Birth: June 14, 2010
Evaluation Date: N/A
Date of Report: July 18, 2011
Methods: record review; collateral interviews with DHHS worker Lerlier, DHHS Supervisor Mussie, AAG Donague, GAL Greenspan.
Consultant: William M. Barter, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist
Background: On or around June 15, 2011, Dr. Barter was contacted by Manon Lerlier, DHHS caseworker for the Biddeford office, and she requested that he be available to speak with her supervisor, Alexis Mussie, regarding the permanency plan for Arnes Orbison, a child in care. Dr. Barter agreed, and had a telephone consultation with Ms. Mussie which was followed by a narrative cover letter and pieces of discovery from DHHS and from the Guardian ad Litem, Holli Greenspan, Esq.
Arnes Orbison is the biological child of Christy Dowe and David Orbison. He has been in the custody of DHHS since January 10, 2011. His current primary placement is with Linda and Pat Jellison, who are licensed foster parents and the adoptive parents of Arnes‟s older biological half-brother, Jeremy. In March 2011, Arnes‟s paternal aunt and her husband, Jenny and Richard Lawe, expressed an interest in adopting Arnes if reunification with birth parents was not going to happen.
DHHS favors adoption by the aunt and uncle (the Lawe‟s), and the Guardian ad Litem favors adoption by the foster parents (the Jellison‟s). All parties stipulate that the Jellison and the Lawe homes are “safe and appropriate” for adoption.
DHHS has posed the following referral question to assist them and the finder of fact in reaching a decision. According to the GAL, she is also aware of the content of the question. (verbatim): The Department seeks an expert opinion on what, if any, would be the impact (long or short term) to Arnes to remove him from his current placement with the Jellison family, and how could any impact be minimized or removed in making the move to the relatives home; what would be the nature and quality of the attachment to his biological half brother; what, if any, impact would a move to his relatives have on that attachment and on Arnes both long and short term; and if the move was made to his relatives home, how to best maintain that relationship/attachment and lessen any impact to this child.
Extent and Limitations of Report:
Since the Jellisons were not evaluated as part of this case review, no opinion is offered as to the parental capacity of the Jellisons. Since the Lawes were not evaluated as part of this case review, no opinion is offered as to the parental capacity of the Lawes. Since the birth parents of Arnes were not evaluated as part of this record review, no opinion is offered as to the parental capacity of Arnes‟s birth parents. Arnes and Jeremy were not evaluated as part of this case review, and no opinion is offered as to their current mental status.
This case review should in no way be viewed as a “best interest” evaluation of Arnes.
Sources provided by DHHS and by the GAL were reviewed in detail, and secondary sources (statutes, research articles, etc) were also reviewed. This review helped to garner a better understanding of the position of all parties. No legal opinion is offered (or has been requested) by this evaluator.
Cover Letter: DHHS offered the following chronology of events:
10/13/10 – DHHS opens a case with David, Christy, and Arnes, who reside together as a family.
12/1/10 – Arnes is placed with Lind and Pat Jellison by his parents as part of a safety plan. Weekend visits (Thursday to Sunday) begin immediately in [grandmother] LouAnn Orbison‟s home, where Mr. Orbison resides. Jenny and Richard Lawe see Arnes most weekends in LouAnn‟s home.
12/9/10 – The Department petitions the court for custody through a Preliminary Order of Protection.
12/25/10 – Arnes spends Christmas with the Orbison family, including David, Jenny and Richard Lawe and their children.
1/10/11 – Custody is granted to DHHS on 1/10/11. Mr. Orbison participates actively with reunification services for the next couple of months and reunification seems likely for this period of time.
3/15/11 – David attends a drug screen and reports are given to DHHS a week later that he tests positive for Oxycodone.
3/22/11 – David‟s substance abuse counselor reports that she is concerned that he is using and is not participating in treatment as of late.
3/23/11 – Jellisons report to Manee [Lerlier] that they are missing a significant portion of their coin collection.
3/25/11 – Jenny Lawe calls Manee to express her interest in adopting Arnes if he is not being reunified with her brother.
4/5/11 – Manee mails the licensing application to the Lawe‟s.
5/9/11 – A meeting is held with both the Lawe‟s and the Jellison‟s to discuss the possibility of changing placement (meeting was originally scheduled for 5/2/11 and was changed to accommodate GAL).
5/13/11 – Weekend visits begin with the Lawe‟s but not overnight.
5/18/11 – Manee and Holli visit the Lawe‟s as part of the relative assessment.
5/27/11 – Arnes begins overnight visits with the Lawe‟s. The child visits with the Lawe family from Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon.
In the cover letter, DHHS stated that the Jellison‟s have maintained contact between Arnes and Jeremy and their sister, Syra, who was adopted by her maternal grandparents.
DHHS reports that Hailleigh Orbison, Arnes‟s half-sister, sees him every weekend when he is at the “Orbison home” during his weekend visits. They report that this has been consistent wince placement with the Jellison‟s.
DHHS stated that the Jellison‟s have a pre-existing relationship with the family, specifically the mother, as they adopted Ms. Dowe‟s son Jeremy at around the age of 3.
DHHS reports that the relationship between Mr. and Ms. Lawe and Mr. Orbison (Ms. Lawe‟s brother) has been strained due to David‟s substance abuse. They had though that reunification was going well, and did not initially want to disrupt reunification efforts between David and Arnes.
According to DHHS, the Department wants to place Arnes with paternal relatives, Jenny and Richard Lawe. They state that the home has been deemed safe, and the family is committed to the adoption plan. The Department has files a petition for Termination of Parental Rights on both parents due to substance abuse and incarcerations.
The Guardian ad litem reports dated January 5, 2011 and June 7, 2011 were included in the packet. In January, the GAL did a thorough historical review of the case; at the time of the first report, Mr. Orbison was working toward reunification, while Arnes‟s mother was incarcerated. The GAL guardedly supported reunification efforts with dad contingent upon engagement in treatment and parenting education and therapy. She also guardedly supported reunification with mom pending release from jail and compliance with treatment. She noted that Arnes was doing well in the Jellison home, and that his half-brother, Jeremy was present there as well. She recommended that Arnes remain in DHHS custody for the time being.
In her second report, the GAL supported the Department‟s decision to file for termination of parental rights on both parents. During this time, the Lawe‟s had stepped forward and had stated their desire to adopt Arnes, and the Department was supportive of the Lawes and their plan to adopt. The GAL stated that she is “adamantly opposed” to adoption by the Lawes, favoring instead leaving Arnes to be adopted by the Jellisons. Her
opinion was not based on negative thoughts toward the Lawes, whom she described as “a lovely family”, but rather was based on her concern over Arnes‟s attachment to the Jellisons, and specifically to his biologically brother, Jeremy, who has already been adopted by the Jellisons.
M.R.S.A. Title 22 Information
The Department provided web printouts of MRSA Title 22, the child welfare legislation for Maine. The statutes regarding temporary kinship placement are outlined, as is the rationale for placement with kin (relatives by blood, marriage, or adoption) and fictive kin (unrelated persons who otherwise take on the characteristics of a family relationship). In cases where parents have already voluntarily placed a child in a safe home, the wishes of the parents and the suitability of the placement are taken into account by DHHS, and the Department is generally expected to support the placement if it is suitable.
The statute states that, …”children who are taken from the custody of their parents should be placed with an adult relative when possible.” Section 4038 (7-A) states that the [Maine] Legislature…”has defined placement with a „fit and willing relative‟ as a satisfactory, permanent plan for a child and as an alternative to termination of parental rights and adoption. Placement with a fit and willing relative is also identified as a clear preference over a planned permanent living arrangement in a foster home.” [Note: this appears to be a reference to permanency guardianship and not adoption, per se.]
The GAL provided studies and policy statements as part of her latest GAL report. Most of the studies cited in policy are the result of acceptable, peer-reviewed research that shows significantly positive social, interpersonal, and academic outcomes for birth siblings kept together. The Department‟s stated policy regarding adoption is a preference for keeping siblings together. Federal statute also demands that sibling relationships be considered when making placement and adoption decisions.
Supervisor Mussie cited the statute under Section 22, section 4003 (3-A) whereby a child removed from the birth parents due to danger to health or welfare should be placed with a relative as an alternative to foster care, when possible. She stated that the Department agrees with the GAL that both the Jellison and Lawe homes are suitable. She stated that the Lawes have been in Arnes‟s life for a considerable period, including when Arnes was visiting with his paternal grandmother on weekends. Since May 2011, Arnes has been spending weekends with the Lawes, and according to Ms. Mussie, this has been going well. She characterized Arnes as having attachment to the Lawes as well as the Jellisons.
Ms. Lerlier reiterated the stance of the department and the position of her supervisor, Ms. Mussie. She added that Arnes has become rather attached to the Lawes. As an example, she said that Arnes will seek out the comfort of his aunt if he is injured or ill. She agreed that all parties stipulated to the suitability of both homes, but cited the statute as being a guiding principle in determining placement.
Attorney Donague indicated that the case is going to trial in August, and that the Department‟s position is that the Lawes should be the adoptive choice. She acknowledged the complexity of this particular case, stating that it is her understanding that the Department desires to comply with statute when it comes to placement of Arnes, and that this supports the department‟s position on adoption by the Lawes. Attorney Donague also revealed a pretty clear understanding of the position of the GAL. She supports the notion put forth by the Department that Arnes has attachment to the Lawes, as he has had contact with them for an extended period of time.
Attorney Greenspan favors adoption by the Jellisons. She describes the Jellisons as a “family placement” in part due to their longstanding relationship with Arnes‟s mother, and in part due to their adoption of Jeremy, Arnes‟s 8-year-old half brother. Her greatest emphasis is on the need of the siblings to remain together, and she cited the research and the Department‟s policy in this regard. She stated that the Jellisons have a track record of maintaining family contact among siblings and parents on both sides of the family, and they are experienced at this sort of complex adoption/access scenario. She noted that there can be no guarantee that an adoptive family would maintain such contact, as it cannot be enforced in a state with no option adoption policy. According to Attorney Greenspan, DHHS has been actively attempting to move foster placement from the Jellison‟s to the Lawes, and has asked to increase overnights for the Lawes, and this concerns her because there is no decided permanency plan.
Referral Question (responses in italics):
The Department seeks an expert opinion on what, if any, would be the impact (long or short term) to Arnes to remove him from his current placement with the Jellison family, and how could any impact be minimized or removed in making the move to the relatives home?
In the short term, there would be a disruption. While there is evidence to suggest that Arnes is attached to both sets of potentially adoptive parents, he was mainly with the Jellisons during a critical period of limbic attachment (6 months to 12 months). Additionally, other individuals (most notably his half-brother) do not accompany him to the Lawes, thereby creating the loss of an additional attachment figure. Despite best intentions, the Lawes and Jellisons cannot provide total consistency in their parenting styles and household routines, so this might signal another disruption.
The answer to the long-term question lies in Arnes’s mental health and resiliency, and in the attachment behaviors of the Lawes. For example, if Arnes were a child with special physical and emotional needs, then removal would most likely be more devastating than if he were a functional, resilient child who is generally happy and well adjusted. Happy, resilient children handle disruptions with limited distress, as opposed to children with low coping abilities. Additionally, if the Lawes were to exhibit strong attachment behaviors toward Arnes, then the long-term consequences may be minimal or nonexistent.
There does not seem to be much disagreement about the attachment behaviors and capabilities of both sets of parents. The impact of removal could be ameliorated by ongoing contact with current attachment figures and a cautious, thoughtful, stepwise transition. The presence of two boys in the Lawe family, if they are supportive, could also be helpful. Arnes’s current regular exposure to the Lawe family is also an ameliorating factor.
What would be the nature and quality of the attachment to his biological half brother?
It is likely that Arnes’s attachment to Jeremy would be negatively impacted by removal from the Jellison home. At 18 months, Arnes will be learning “Object Permanence”, and this process will continue for a couple of years. It is implausible that occasional visits with a brother would have the same value with regard to object permanence as would placement in the same family. That is not to say that a relationship could not continue, but to characterize such a relationship as “attachment” would be a stretch.
What, if any, impact would a move to his relatives have on that attachment and on Arnes both long and short term; and if the move was made to his relatives home, how to best maintain that relationship/attachment and lessen any impact to this child?
This question was mainly answered above. A distinction needs to be made here between “attachment” and “relationship”, as these are not synonymous terms and should not be treated as such. Arnes could maintain a “relationship” with his brother while living in a separate household, and this would depend largely on the resolve of the Lawes to make that happen. With no open adoption in Maine, frequency and quality of sibling contact are entirely at the discretion of the adoptive parents, and there can be no enforcement in this regard. To maintain the level of contact necessary to make Jeremy a permanent “attachment” object in Arnes’s life (especially in this next critical developmental period) would require frequent contact and painstaking work on the part of both families, and of course this cannot be guaranteed.