A psychologist who provided an "unprofessional" expert opinion implying a man had sexually abused or would abuse his daughter caused the man "mental torment and anguish", a tribunal has heard.
She gave the opinion to the family court despite never having met or spoken to the father, and based it on factors such as his willingness to change the girl's nappies, and his habit of showering with the door open.
The psychologist, who has a doctorate in psychology, has interim name suppression and appeared before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal yesterday, having admitted a charge of professional misconduct for her actions.
Professional Conduct Committee lawyer Anita Miller said the case involved "complex and difficult family circumstances".
The Horowhenua man was married to the child's grandmother, and had what he described as an affair with his wife's 21-year-old daughter. The child was the result of that affair.
The man said the affair was consensual, but the child's mother said it was a one-off incident of rape. Police have investigated the claim and have not laid charges.
The psychologist's affidavit came several years later amid family court proceedings in which the man was seeking partial custody of the girl who was then 4 years old.
The affidavit included concerns with the man's keenness to change the girl's nappy, saying it "provided him with an opportunity to molest her", and noted the ex-wife's concerns about the girl getting into bed with her father as it created an opportunity for him to "encourage her to touch his genitals".
She also referred to his ex's claim he repeatedly showered with the door open, labelling the behaviour as "abusive" and suggesting "improper intent".
She said he had "shown a determination to breach safe sexual boundaries" and that his behaviours could have a "conditioning effect" on the girl.
The psychologist earlier made reports of concern to Oranga Tamariki and police, but was told the girl had not disclosed any abuse.
She never met or spoke to the man, let alone assessed him or observed him with the girl.
The opinion followed concerns being raised about some of the girl's behaviour, including compulsive masturbation and putting stickers on the genital areas of drawings of people.
At the time of preparing the affidavit, she had only been registered in the psychological scope of practice for about two and a half years, had limited experience in assessing and treating children, and had no experience assessing or treating child sex offenders.
In one email to OT she described the man as "the alleged perpetrator" who was "very persistent in pushing for unsupervised overnight access" and would "need restraint from doing so".
She told police "this type of crime involves the utmost manipulation and deceit in the context of heavy power dynamics affecting the victim to confuse and silence".
Miller said it was "completely inappropriate" for the psychologist to have filed the affidavit in such a way that it presented as an expert, objective opinion.
The man gave evidence in the tribunal hearing, becoming tearful as he described the impact the affidavit had on his life.
He said the psychologist "assassinated" his character and that her allegations made him feel "physically ill".
"I doubt that anyone who hasn't been accused of such actions ... can relate to the mental torment and anguish which debilitated my mind."
The rumour mill was rife in his home town and he would never be able to rid himself of stigma of doubt, he said.
The psychologist's lawyer, Helen Smith, apologised to the man on behalf of the psychologist.
She told the tribunal the
psychologist believed she had a duty to warn of sexual abuse risk, but accepted she went too far by providing the conclusions she had drawn.
"She should have conveyed her concern in a neutral manner because she was not experienced enough and/or did not have sufficient information to form a view on whether there was an actual risk to [the girl]."
Smith said the psychologist did not believe she was providing an expert opinion to the court, and there was no malice intended.
The affidavit sat with the court for two years until the custody hearing could be held. On the eve of that hearing she tried to withdraw her affidavit and replace it with one that was more moderate, but the court did not allow the withdrawal.
As a result of the misconduct she has voluntarily imposed conditions on her own practice, including engaging a new supervisor, arranging reviews of her work, and not taking on any new clients who have dependent children.
Smith noted her supervisor at the time of the misconduct not only commented on the affidavit before filing it, but also unreservedly endorsed it without raising any concerns about her competency.
She argued she should be censured and pay a contribution to the costs of the hearing by way of penalty. The PCC has suggested a censure, fine of $5000, a contribution of at least 50 per cent of the costs, a written apology to the father, and imposition of conditions on her practice for two years.
The Tribunal has found the psychologist guilty of professional misconduct but will release its decision on penalty and name suppression in writing at a later date.
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