The effects of framing and level of experience on constultants' conceptualizations and recommendations for treatment in cases of child abuse

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Virginia Tech


Professionals charged with planning treatment for abusive families often seek consultation during the process of making decisions about treatment. This study examined whether the level of experience of the consultant and the frame in which the case is presented affect conceptualizations and recommendations for treatment for cases of child abuse. To provide theoretical background for the study, a developmental ecological systems perspective on child abuse is presented. Research indicating that the most effective treatment for multiproblem abusive families addresses multiple ecological levels is reviewed.

Consultants were forty members of Multidisciplinary Teams on Child Abuse and Neglect with treatment planning experience, 40 team members with related experience but no treatment planning experience, and 40 undergraduate psychology students with no experience in child protection (novices). Each consultant reviewed written copies of two case presentations of child abuse. One was presented in a frame emphasizing factors related to the individual abuser in the development of the abuse, the other in a frame presenting factors from multiple ecological levels in the development of the abuse. Consultants provided written recommendations and conceptualizations for each case, rated the effectiveness of interventions from four ecological levels in treatment of the abuse, and rated the importance of factors from the four ecological levels in development of the abuse.

Results showed that the number of levels of recommendations provided increased as consultants’ experience increased. Treatment planners and consultants with related experience also rated multiple levels of intervention as more effective and as more important to the development of abuse than novices did. In ratings provided for these variables, treatment planners and consultants with related experience did not differ from each other. Individual framing of cases led to a higher percentage of individual level conceptualizations for all consultants. However, nonsignificant trends in the responses suggest that the treatment planners may be the least affected by framing of cases. The author reviews the implications these results have for clinical practice.