Perspectives on Practice

There is mounting evidence that parenting conflict doesn’t end when a couple divorces. The court-ordered — and increasingly popular — intervention known as parenting coordination is aimed at minimizing the impact high-conflict custody disputes have on children. Though parenting coordinators aren’t required to be psychologists, the combination of parenting education, mediation, conflict resolution and intensive case management required in the role makes this emerging practice area a great fit for our training and skill set.

Unfortunately, despite the potential for parenting coordination interventions to help children and families, cost has often been a barrier to access for many families. APA is working to address that problem through the efforts of our own Shirley Ann Higuchi, JD. It began in 2004, when Higuchi, assistant executive director for Legal and Regulatory Affairs in the Practice Directorate, and Stephen J. Lally, PhD, associate dean in the College of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences and professor in the clinical psychology program at Argosy University, spearheaded a pilot project at the D.C. Superior Court. The APA Practice Directorate, Argosy University, and the D.C. Bar Family Law Section launched the Parenting Coordination Program, bringing together lawyers, judges, psychologists and other interested parties in an effort to serve the needs of low-income, high-conflict families involved in child-custody disputes.

The project was so successful that the D.C. Superior Court committed in 2009 to fully funding the program within the court and hired psychologist Jennifer Joyner, PsyD, as its director.

The D.C. court provides a model for other jurisdictions that are considering implementing similar programs, and several have already expressed interest. With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Practice Directorate retained Child Trends, a highly respected nonprofit research center that focuses on improving outcomes for children, to evaluate the Parenting Coordination Program and recommend ways to replicate it in other jurisdictions. The report found positive trends in the program’s impact on families and the court. Analysis of court activities revealed several significant associations between the receipt of parenting coordination services and decreased use of court resources.

In the past few years, APA and the APA Practice Organization have focused on developing professional resources and training for psychologists interested in this cutting-edge practice area. The APA Task Force for the Development of Parenting Coordination Guidelines is drafting guidelines to describe best practices for ethical and competent functioning in this unique role. Although they are designed specifically for psychologists, many aspects of these guidelines may be relevant to other mental health or legal professionals who provide parenting coordination services. Pending approval by APA’s Council of Representatives, the guidelines should be released early next year. To review and comment on the draft guidelines, see the announcement on page 80 in the June Monitor.

The online continuing-education course, “Parenting Coordination: An Introduction,” is available through APA Practice Central. The course offers an overview of the knowledge and skills required for effective practice, a description of the parenting coordination process and a list of resources.

In addition, a full-day APA pre-convention CE Workshop, “Advanced Topics in Parenting Coordination,” will be held on Aug. 11, in San Diego, followed by a networking reception. Workshop registration is available at APA's Convention website.

Hope to see you all in San Diego!

The project was so successful that the D.C. Superior Court committed in 2009 to fully funding the program within the court.