A thematic content analysis of psychologists' reports in child custody evaluations

Journal Article


Journal Title

South African Journal of Psychology

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

The key objective of this study was to examine empirically the substantive issues that inform psychologists' decision-making in custody evaluations. The study draws on a relatively small convenience sample of 39 reports from eight different psychologists who represented key informants in the field in Cape Town. Jameson, Ehrenberg and Hunter's (1997) Best Interests of the Child Assessment model was revised and used as a template for a thematic content analysis. The results of the study indicate that psychologists tend to adopt a child-centred approach, with the child's basic and developmentally related needs ranked as the most commonly employed criterion (reflected in 95% of reports). The child's rights and wishes were reflected in 54% of the reports, and socio-economic resources were the lowest-ranked criterion, reflected in only 18% of the reports. The results of the study are discussed in terms of the need to formulate the implications of a child rights orientation, to negotiate referral questions and to adapt report writing styles to the legal-judicial context. Further, the implications of the findings for future research and professional practice are discussed and recommendations made.