WSR 04-08-098



(Examining Board of Psychology)

[ Filed April 6, 2004, 2:39 p.m. ]

     Original Notice.

     Preproposal statement of inquiry was filed as WSR 98-22-087.

     Title of Rule: Parenting plan evaluation standards, WAC 246-924-510 and 246-924-515.

     Purpose: The proposal creates procedures for psychologists to use when performing parenting plan evaluations.

     Other Identifying Information: Parenting plan evaluations are also known as child custody evaluations. These are new sections WAC 246-924-510 and 246-924-515.

     Statutory Authority for Adoption: RCW 18.83.050 (1), (5), 18.83.121.

     Statute Being Implemented: Chapter 18.83 RCW.

     Summary: These rules establish minimum standards for conducting parenting plan evaluations. They identify specific elements that must be either included or considered in an evaluation and subsequent written reports.

     Reasons Supporting Proposal: The public, families, and the courts will be better served with standards in place.

     Name of Agency Personnel Responsible for Drafting, Implementation and Enforcement: Janice K. Boden, HSC3, Tumwater, Washington, (360) 236-4912.

     Name of Proponent: Washington State Examining Board of Psychology, governmental.

     Rule is not necessitated by federal law, federal or state court decision.

     Explanation of Rule, its Purpose, and Anticipated Effects: This rule provides a definition for "parenting plan evaluations," identifies the elements to be addressed in the evaluation including: Preevaluation elements; data collection elements; assessment elements; and written report elements.

     The purpose is to standardize the way parenting plan evaluations are conducted, yet allow for professional judgment and difference in orientation, when a specific situation requires an approach outside of the standard mold. These rules will also provide a benchmark for the board to use when evaluating complaints.

     Standardization will result in consumers that are better informed about the evaluation process - perhaps resulting in a reduction of complaints received, and will provide guidance to the profession on what is acceptable practice in this state. Evaluations will be more comprehensive and reliable - helping courts make better decisions and helping clients feel the evaluation process was fair.

     Proposal does not change existing rules.

     A small business economic impact statement has been prepared under chapter 19.85 RCW.

Small Business Economic Impact Statement

     Proposed New Sections: WAC 246-924-510 Parenting plan evaluations and 246-924-515 Parenting plan evaluations--Elements.

     Background: Statute, chapter 18.83 RCW, regulates the practice of licensed psychologists in the state of Washington. The intentions of this regulation are to protect the public from being misled by incompetent, unethical and/or unauthorized persons; to assure the availability of psychology services of high quality to persons in need; and to assure the highest degree of professional conduct and competency in the delivery of these services.

     Under RCW 18.83.050, the Examining Board of Psychology is authorized to define and establish qualifications and standards for education, examination, licensure, and practice of psychologists in the state of Washington. Ultimately, the Board establishes rules that it considers are appropriate for the protection of the consumers of psychology services, the people of the state of Washington.

     Over the past several years, the board estimates that 30% of consumer reports of unprofessional or incompetent practice were identified in the area of parenting plan (child custody) evaluations, which was previously free from rule. The board has identified potential risks whereby the public may be harmed at the hands of psychologists using inconsistent and unconventional data collection techniques, evaluation methods and reporting formats, which altogether often result in evaluations that are viewed as unfair or biased or inaccurate.

     By establishing new specific criteria and standards for the parenting plan evaluation process and formalizing them into enforceable rules, the board anticipates the evaluation process will improve by becoming more consistent, reliable, effective, and fair. And, because these proposed requirements cannot be placed into policy, and since enforcement is required, rule amendment is the only method to incorporate these new requirements. In the end, psychologists, clients and other related parties will be better informed about the evaluation process, potentially reducing the number of disadvantageous reports filed, and improving the overall effectiveness of utilizing parenting plan evaluations when determining child custody.

     Purpose and Objective: The primary objective of these proposed rules is to enhance the quality of care provided by psychologists licensed by the state of Washington. Without these rules there could be licensed psychologists providing potentially inaccurate, biased, or even damaging parenting plan evaluations - which could lead to substandard care of the public, and potentially harmful outcomes of child custody disputes.

     The Examining Board of Psychology is proposing new rules that will ultimately impose new requirements on parenting plan evaluations. The new rules will:

&sqbul; Add clarity and consistency to the methodology and practice of parenting plan evaluations.
&sqbul; Increase awareness of parenting plan evaluations, stressing the importance of consistent, standardized evaluations in determining child custody.
&sqbul; Reduce potential risks for inaccurate, deleterious and inconsistent parenting plan evaluations.
&sqbul; Reduce the number of complaints and reports of unprofessional or incompetent practice in the area of parenting plan evaluations.
&sqbul; Improve the overall effectiveness of using parenting plan evaluations when determining child custody.
&sqbul; Ensure that all licensed psychologists are competent and capable of carrying out their professional duties including authoring accurate and standardized parenting plan evaluations.
&sqbul; Improve the overall quality of services and care provided by psychologists.
     Rule-making Requirements of the Regulatory Fairness Act (Chapter 19.85 RCW): The Regulatory Fairness Act, RCW 19.85.030, requires the department to conduct a small business economic impact statement (SBEIS) for proposed rules that have more than minor impact on small businesses. As defined in RCW 19.85.020 a small business is "any business entity, including a sole proprietorship, corporation, partnership, or other legal entity, that is owned and operated independently from all other businesses, that has the purpose of making a profit, and that has fifty or fewer employees."

     What Does the Rule Require?

&sqbul; The proposed rules add new requirements for psychologists in performing and documenting parenting plan evaluations.
&sqbul; The rules require psychologists to properly and completely assess and document all areas of the evaluation process including but not limited to the following:
° Preevaluation agreements and assessments that are consistent.
° Data collection methods and elements that are legitimate and complete.
° Complete and thorough assessment involving all parties involved.
° Complete and thorough written reporting, consistent with chapter 26.09 RCW.
&sqbul; The rules define and outline terminology, requirements, limits and processes of parenting plan evaluations. The rules affect all psychologists by adding new enforceable requirements to their existing methods and standards of practice.
&sqbul; The rules reiterate the fact that outcomes of these evaluations should be in the best interest of the children involved.
     Affected Industries/Disproportionate Costs: In preparing this small business economic impact statement, the Department of Health used the following SIC codes.

SIC Industry Code and Title No. of Businesses No. of Employees Average No. of Employees For Smallest Businesses Average No. of Employees for 10% of Largest Businesses
8051 Skilled nursing facilities 281 26,407 15 144
8063 Psychiatric hospitals 6 3,177 0 147
8221 Colleges and universities 124 43,952 7 3454
8322 Individual and family services 1,261 29,061 31 181
8399 Social services, not elsewhere classified 372 3,400 4 36

     There is no disproportionate impact on small businesses. Many evaluations will have no additional costs to the licensee. However, some reports may require additional data gathering and report writing. The average hourly wage of a licensed psychologist in Washington state is $125 per hour. DOH estimates an average cost of $375 for a psychologist to conduct additional data gathering. Also, additional report writing will cost the psychologist one hour for a cost of $125. While licensed psychologists will encounter costs with the implementation of the new rules, the cost does not disproportionately impact small businesses. The burden of additional time for a psychologist to gather data and write a report are considered to have the same cost per employee in both large and small businesses.

     How Will the Department of Health Notify Businesses? Upon adoption, these rules will be made available to businesses that involve counselor professionals, institutions, and facilities in a number of ways:

Available on the Internet.
Copy sent to all businesses that have asked to be placed on the interested persons mailing list.
Included in the next updated law book which is sent upon request to businesses and licensees.
Available at the front counter for businesses and licensees.
Copy of rule is available through the Code Reviser's Office, which is available to all businesses and licensees.
Printed in the newsletter.
     Costs to the Department of Health to Administer the Regulation: There are no new additional costs to the Department of Health to amend or repeal these rules. No additional review time and no additional analyses are required as a result of the amendments.

     How Has the Department of Health Involved Businesses in the Rule-making Process? To ensure compliance with the current rule-making process, the board solicited input from the public and other stakeholders, held public work sessions to identify problems with the current system and to receive input from licensees and the public. After those meetings the board reviewed the received input and agreed on "concepts." A rule writing session was held July 1999 and draft rules were written. The board finalized the proposed rule language at its April 2001 meeting.

     What Are the Reporting, Record Keeping, and Other Compliance Requirements? The proposed rule would not impose any reporting, record-keeping, or other compliance requirements. Psychologists working in this area of practice are already preparing written reports.

     Will the Proposed Rule Cause Businesses to Lose Sales or Revenue? No. Psychologists currently have to comply with various practice and ethical standards in order to maintain a license. Attorneys and the courts will continue to rely upon psychologists to conduct evaluations and make recommendations regarding parenting plans in custody and divorce proceedings.

     What Professional Services Is a Small Business Likely to Need in Order to Comply with the Requirements of the Proposed Rule? Small businesses will not need professional services to comply with the requirements of the proposed rule.

     What Are the Costs to the Department of Health to Administer the Regulation? There are no new additional costs to the Department of Health to amend these rules. No additional review time and no additional analyses are required as a result of the amendments.

     A copy of the statement may be obtained by writing to Department of Health, P.O. Box 47869, Olympia, WA 98504-7869, phone (360) 236-4912, fax (360) 236-4909.

     RCW 34.05.328 applies to this rule adoption. These rules are significant because they adopt substantive procedures that subject the violator to penalty or sanction. The agency has conducted the additional analysis required.

     Hearing Location: Wyndham SeaTac Hotel, 18118 International Boulevard, Seattle, WA 98188, (206) 244-6666, on May 14, 2004, at 9:15 a.m.

     Assistance for Persons with Disabilities: Contact Janice K. Boden by April 16, 2004, TDD (800) 833-6322 or (360) 236-4612.

     Submit Written Comments to: Janice K. Boden, Program Manager, Examining Board of Psychology, P.O. Box 47869, Olympia, WA 98504-7869, e-mail, fax (360) 236-4912.

     Date of Intended Adoption: May 14, 2004.

March 9, 2004

Janice K. Boden

Program Manager


WAC 246-924-510   Parenting plan evaluations.   Psychologists may be called upon to assist the courts in determining an appropriate parenting plan for a minor child or children. These rules establish minimum standards for these evaluations. It is the duty of each psychologist to make recommendations that are based upon the best interest of the child.

     (1) A parenting plan evaluation is defined as an assessment of family functioning, leading to recommendations regarding the primary residential parent, shared residential time, decision-making authority and other variables. An evaluation usually includes a written report of the assessment and recommendations. The conclusions reached in an evaluation are based on information from more than one source.

     (2) If psychological testing is used as part of the evaluation, the test(s) must be used for their intended purposes and must be interpreted according to the instructions of the test developer or as suggested in research literature.

     (3) If the psychologist has provided therapeutic services to one party or both parties, the psychologist shall decline an appointment as a parenting evaluator unless there are unusual mitigating circumstances. Providing service in a rural or underserved area with limited professional options is an example of a mitigating circumstance. If a prior professional relationship exists with the parties, the psychologist shall disclose the prior professional relationship to the parties or their counsel before beginning the evaluation.

     With an appropriate release, a psychologist may provide relevant information to the court regarding his or her client without that feedback being construed as a parenting evaluation. Relevant information may include, but is not limited to, diagnosis, clinical assessment, treatment plan, or prognosis.

     (4) A psychologist may perform limited evaluative services related to, but not intended to be, a full parenting plan evaluation. Examples of these services include evaluating parenting ability of a party, evaluating substance abuse status of a party, assessing psychological functioning of a party, performing a sexual deviance evaluation, conducting a domestic violence assessment, assessing allegations of sexual or physical abuse of a child, or performing a vocational assessment of a party. The psychologist shall not make diagnostic or evaluative comments about a person he or she has not personally evaluated. The psychologist shall not make comparative statements unless both parties are evaluated.


WAC 246-924-515   Parenting plan evaluations -- Elements.   The following elements shall be addressed in parenting plan evaluations. These elements shall be addressed either by completing the element or by describing in the report or the file the reason for omitting the element.

     (1) Preevaluation elements:

     (a) The psychologist shall obtain the following:

     (i) Court order or a written agreement from all parties to conduct the evaluation;

     (ii) Written agreement about payment arrangements;

     (iii) Appropriate signed authorizations for release of information.

     (b) Prior to commencing any evaluative activity the psychologist shall disclose the following specific information to the litigants:

     (i) Estimated cost;

     (ii) Written fee structure;

     (iii) Written statement regarding the purpose of the evaluation;

     (iv) Written statement of to whom the report may be released;

     (v) How sessions will be selected and sequenced;

     (vi) How collateral contacts will be selected;

     (vii) How errors can be corrected;

     (viii) Any dual roles and the possible conflicts of interest that may arise from the dual roles.

     (2) Data collection elements:

     (a) Face-to-face session(s) with each party;

     (b) Observation of each child with party;

     (c) Interviews with each child who has the capacity to provide relevant information;

     (d) Equal psychological testing of both parties. If additional instruments are administered to one party, the reason for doing so shall be specified in the report or the file;

     (e) Approximately equal time spent with each party;

     (f) Appropriate collateral contact interviews;

     (g) An opportunity for each party to express concerns or issues; and

     (h) A review of relevant documents and pleadings.

     (3) Assessment elements:

     (a) The psychological functioning of each party;

     (b) The psychological functioning of the child;

     (c) The needs of the individual child;

     (d) Each party's parenting history;

     (e) Relevant ethnic and cultural issues;

     (f) Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-608);

     (g) Attachment and relationship between each child and each party;

     (h) Each party's parenting skills; and

     (i) Possible limiting factors as outlined in chapter 26.09 RCW such as child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, or the abusive use of conflict.

     (4) Written report elements:

     (a) Consistent with chapter 26.09 RCW regarding criteria for permanent parenting plans;

     (b) Address the developmental needs of the children;

     (c) No diagnostic or evaluative comments about any person not personally observed by the psychologist;

     (d) No discrimination based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, or any other protected class under applicable law;

     (e) Acknowledge and address major concerns of each party, including allegations against both parties;

     (f) Identify documents relied upon;

     (g) Identify all collateral contacts;

     (h) Identify all testing done;

     (i) Identify all interviews with parties;

     (j) Identify date of report preparation and distribution; and

     (k) Concurrent distribution to parties and/or attorneys as specified in the disclosure statement.


Legislature Code Reviser 


© Washington State Code Reviser's Office