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For New York Families in Custody Fights, a ‘Black Hole’ of Oversight

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When Anna Frank lost custody of her 9-year-old son, she blamed her husband and the judge who decided the case in his favor.

She also faulted Barbara Burkhard, a psychologist appointed to evaluate the family and advise the court on the matter. According to Frank, Burkhard concluded — after meeting Frank once and without interviewing her son — that their claims of abuse were invented and that Frank had poisoned her child against his father.

 Frank ultimately regained custody of her son, based partly on testimony from other psychologists who disputed Burkhard’s contentions. But before she did, she sought sanctions against Burkhard from the agency that oversees licensed psychologists in New York.

Frank’s densely detailed, 12-page complaint to the Office of Professional Discipline was never investigated, let alone acted upon.

“Due to our inability to access records or discuss the services rendered with this psychologist, we are unable to investigate this matter or to initiate disciplinary action based upon your complaint,” a letter from the office, from the spring of 2012, explained. “I am sorry we cannot be of more assistance to you.”

The office’s response was typical, a ProPublica examination shows.

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9 out of 10 of the perpetrators are never brought to justice and never appear on sex offender registries.

They are protected by New York State laws.

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