Section 3: Assessment
2 Hours

Lecture Topic TOPIC: ASSESSMENT

Part II: Style and Approach

General Issues

By now, I hope that we have emphasized the importance of assessment as an ongoing process that can inform decisions throughout the juvenile sex offender management process. Shortly, we will turn our attention to two specific types of assessments that can guide intervention planning, such as treatment and supervision plans. But before we do that, we should spend a few minutes discussing some important process–related issues related to assessment.

Use SlideUse Slide #13: Style and Approach are Important

Because an overarching goal of an assessment is to obtain good information, it is important that consideration is given to one's style and approach. Regardless of your specific role in assessing juvenile sex offenders—for example, whether you are a forensic evaluator responsible for conducting a psychosexual evaluation, or an officer of the juvenile court responsible for conducting a pre–sentence/pre–disposition report—your style and approach are critical.

In fact, despite our best efforts, we sometimes overlook the impact that process-related variables can have on either increasing or decreasing the quality and quantity of information obtained during the assessment process. For example, dedicated efforts must be made to establish rapport with the youth and his or her family, because in the absence of a trusting professional relationship, youth and their families are unlikely to disclose information to us.12 And if we establish adversarial patterns of interacting with youth and their families, they are very difficult to break.

Contextual Considerations

In addition, we sometimes fail to think about some of the contextual variables that may impact the juvenile and/or the parents when we encounter them for the first time to conduct an assessment.13

Use SlideUse Slide #14: Contextual Variables

For example, because of the nature of the offense, the youth and his or her family may be experiencing extreme reactions of shame or guilt, and we should expect that there may be some level of denial. And of course, the stigma associated with being labeled as a sex offender can impact a youth’s willingness to open up.

So, it can be helpful to consider the kinds of questions that you will be asking and the kind of information that you are trying to obtain. Much of it is extremely personal and can be embarrassing. Just try to picture yourself talking to someone in a position of authority about your own sexual behaviors—which presumably are healthy, age–appropriate, and consensual! It is especially important, then, to maintain a non–judgmental and non–threatening stance as you conduct the assessment.

Something else that can be helpful early on is to identify some common ground and common goals with the youth and family, such as trying to figure out the best ways to ensure that these kinds of behaviors do not happen any more, so that the youth can go on to lead a healthy, successful life. This can create a sense of a partnership between the professionals and the youth and family, rather than an “us versus them” relationship.

Another contextual factor that may be operating is the reaction of the juvenile or family to being exposed for the first time to the juvenile court process, which may be overwhelming and confusing. As a result, they may be experiencing anxiety, confusion, or frustration, particularly if multiple agencies and numerous professionals have been involved with the investigation and other processes. It is also possible that the youth or the parents have had prior negative experiences with “the system” and may be reluctant to engage in the assessment process. Or a youth may still be concerned about opening up because he had been told earlier in the process by his attorney or parent (before agreements were made to conduct an assessment) not to say anything at all. Therefore, an important part of establishing a trusting professional relationship that can ultimately facilitate the assessment process is to provide information about the assessment approach and its relationship to the overall juvenile court process.

You should explain the nature of the assessment or evaluation that you are conducting—such as the role that you play in the court process, the type of information that you will be collecting, the potential sources you intend to use to obtain that information, how the information you collect will be used, and with whom the assessment information will be shared.14 And to the extent possible, it might be helpful to explain some of the juvenile justice court processes that they are going to be involved in, and about the range of disposition options that could be available.

Finally, something that we should always consider as an assessor is the potential impact of cultural values and norms on the engagement of the youth or family in the assessment process.15 Sometimes, we tend to barrel ahead with our questions and make assumptions about why individuals respond (or fail to respond) to our questions or expectations in certain ways that may be different from what we expect or desire. We may be ignorant of—or insensitive to—cultural issues, and how they may affect verbal and non–verbal communication styles, the tendency to speak candidly about personal problems or family difficulties, or the manner in which individuals respond to “outside” intervention.

So, what all of this means is that a little bit of perspective–taking and understanding can be very helpful for an assessor. Putting yourself in the youth’s or family’s shoes, so to speak, may help you adjust your style and approach in a manner that may enhance the assessment process and facilitate obtaining more information—and hopefully more accurate information.

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