As our Forensic Evaluations program comes to a close, we’d like to acknowledge the contribution of Dr. Jodi Berger Cardoso, a mentor for our program. Her 15+ years of experience working with the immigrant community and her participation as a mentor has been invaluable to fortifying HILSC’s clinical network. In this article, we ask her what brought her to forensic evaluation and what insights she has for others interested in this work.

1. What inspired you to do forensic evaluations?

There was a need for clinicians to help with the response of unaccompanied minor children arriving at the border in 2014. Children were arriving at the U.S-Mexico border with significant mental health needs and attorneys were struggling to interview them because they were not trained in working with traumatized children. So, I was motivated to help meet the need so that children were prepared to fight their asylum cases in court. 

2. Why is providing mentorship for other forensic evaluators important?

There is an incredible need in the Houston area for social workers and other mental health providers to collaborate with attorneys. Because of an extensive history of psychological trauma, asylees and refugees often struggle to explain to others how trauma has affected their well-being. The forensic evaluation is often a way to explain to the courts how an individual would benefit from asylum and what would happen to them if they were returned to their country of origin. For some, a forensic evaluation can be what contributes to a positive outcome in their case. This is the reason I provide mentorship. Because we need others that can effectively do this work and provide this service to a vulnerable population of immigrants. 

3. What was your experience like working as a mentor?

I had a great experience working as a mentor. I learned a lot from my colleagues through our collaborative partnership. What I have learned as a mentor has directly translated into improvements in my own forensic evaluations. It has been a pleasure to work with such talented and dedicated mental health providers.

4. What insight would like to share with clinicians interested in this work?

While a biopsychosocial assessment and a forensic evaluation share similarities, the latter requires the clinician demonstrate symptoms and traumatic experiences with a greater burden of proof. I would really encourage clinicians who want to do this work to: (1) have specialized training in trauma, and (2) receive training and mentorship in formulating a forensic evaluation, and (3) become comfortable with testifying in court, as this is a major way that evaluators advocate for their clients.

Learn more about Dr. Cardoso and her work through the University of Houston here.

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