Spotlight on early career psychologists in the field of child maltreatment

The early career psychologist (ECP) column spotlights ECPs in the field of child maltreatment. Successful ECPs from a variety of career paths are chosen to help graduate students, interns and early ECPs in making wise training and career choices. Our featured ECP is a great role model for members interested in a career within a consulting and forensic evaluation setting working to promote the safety and welfare of children and their families.
By Helen Milojevich, PhD

Claire Gilligan, PsyD Claire Gilligan, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist-doctorate and partner at Vermont Forensic Assessment, PLLC. She prepares comprehensive forensic evaluations and offers consultation services for child protection agencies, corrections, attorneys, mental health agencies, employers and schools. She is skilled in evaluating a diverse range of examinees involved in criminal, family and civil matters. Gilligan assists in criminal cases by determining issues of competency to stand trial, criminal responsibility, and by conducting violence risk and psychosexual assessments. She aids state agencies and private sector employers in identifying mental health issues that may be impairing an employee’s work performance and suggests appropriate treatments through fitness-for-duty evaluations. Gilligan’s multimethod approach to evaluating parenting capacity aims to educate referral sources about a parent’s ability to meet his/her child’s basic needs in the context of myriad risk and protective factors and provides recommendations relevant for reunification planning.

Gilligan graduated from the clinical psychology program at Antioch University New England in Keene, New Hampshire, with a PsyD in 2010. Due to personal circumstances, namely having a young family and her husband’s job, she opted to create an internship site with one of her classmates who was in a similar circumstance. They were fortunate to have the opportunity to create a site at the University of Vermont’s doctoral training program in clinical psychology where they worked and trained collaboratively with PhD students and faculty in both research and clinical endeavors. A primary focus of Gilligan’s work was supporting the clinical needs of refugees and asylum seekers as well as conducting research in this area. 

Gilligan’s initial interest in clinical family work began prior to graduate school when she provided case management services to impoverished families in rural Vermont. Her interest in family work was bolstered in graduate school during a placement at a juvenile residential facility where she engaged in family therapy and conducted comprehensive psychological evaluations. The majority of these adolescents had significant trauma histories that often included parental maltreatment. Gilligan was especially interested in what supports the adolescents needed to foster resiliency and overcome adversity in their family of origin. It was at this placement that She met one of her current colleagues who mentored her in forensic psychology. Throughout the latter parts of graduate school and alongside her internship, she continued to gain skills in forensic evaluations. Upon completion of graduate school, she and her husband decided to remain in Vermont to raise their family. The practice where Gilligan had obtained her training in forensic psychology also needed a female psychologist. She gladly accepted the position as an independent psychologist with Vermont Forensic Assessment, PLLC where she has continued to work full-time for the past eight years. 

Gilligan’s first three years in the practice were focused on criminal cases where she conducted psychosexual evaluations, violence risk assessments, competency to proceed evaluations and evaluations focused on mitigation. While she enjoyed working in the criminal arena, she missed working with families with acute and chronic needs (e.g., poverty, substance abuse, mental health). At that time, her practice had also begun to receive referrals for evaluations of parents and families involved in the local child protective services agency. Given Gilligan’s background in case management with families and her passion for working with them, she decided to pursue additional training in family court matters with a focus on parental capacity evaluations. 

Gilligan’s training in parenting capacity evaluations began after she reviewed the available literature and came across several articles and book chapters authored by Karen Budd, PhD. With a growing interest in these evaluations she reached out to Budd for consultation and attended a training through the American Association of Forensic Psychology. Budd graciously referred her to Jennifer Clark, PsyD, with whom she has consulted over the past several years.

Currently, Gilligan’s work is focused on family forensic evaluations and parenting capacity evaluations. She receives referrals through the local CPS agency as well as through parents’ attorneys. Along with her three business partners, she also supervises doctoral-level practicum students. A smaller percentage of her work involves presentations on parenting capacity evaluations and research in the field.

Gilligan is also working on a research project with Clark to assess family court judges’ use of and value of parenting capacity evaluations to inform best practices for professionals. Gilligan was inspired to pursue this area of research given the paucity of literature on best practices for conducting parenting capacity evaluations. In addition, she is a member of several APA divisions relevant to family forensic matters, including the Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice; the America Psychology Law Society; and the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. 

Having trained and worked in the field of forensic psychology for almost ten years now, Gilligan has learned the importance of self-care and consultation. As she states, she is fortunate and blessed to work in a practice with three other colleagues with whom she can consult on an almost daily basis. The consultation is essential, not only to have a sounding board, but more importantly to have a space to share her feelings and address potential vicarious trauma that can impede her ability to be an effective evaluator, mother and wife. Gilligan would highly encourage early career psychologists in the field to seek out mentors or colleagues with whom they can process the emotional side of our work. There are also issues of safety in child maltreatment. In her own experience, she has had to prematurely end interviews and observations in homes and at her office due to safety concerns. As such, Gilligan would also encourage early career psychologists to develop safety plans for being in the field. Her most important piece of career advice to ECPs is to never hesitate to reach out to experts in the field. Had she not done so, she would not be where she is today in her career. 

Gilligan has already made remarkable contributions to the field of child maltreatment via forensic evaluation and consulting. She is passionate about her work and has improved the lives of many vulnerable youth. We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors and thank her for her insights to our students and ECPs.