Assessing Developmental Level When Representing Foster Care Children

Witkin, Sharon Jackson
January 2005
Human Rights;Winter2005, Vol. 32 Issue 1, p8
This article focuses on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-III and the similarities subtest on the Wechsler instruments, which both provide information about a child's developmental level. Attorneys working with foster care children in underfunded juvenile justice systems are all too frequently required to represent children with whom they have not had adequate opportunity to develop a relationship. Knowing a child's developmental level is essential to adequate representation, especially but not exclusively when the child needs to testify. Chronological age is the usual crude indicator of developmental level, but it is accurate less than half the time in the general population, and less frequently than that for children in the foster care system. Equating age with developmental level often leads to both errors of inclusion and exclusion. More exact information can be pivotal in determining the best interests of the child, in successfully interviewing the child, and in defending a child's credibility. Contrary to popular wisdom, this information can be readily and inexpensively obtained for most English-speaking children. For courtroom use, lawyers only need an estimate of receptive language and verbal abstract thinking.


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