Methods: The study was based on factorial survey of 59 social workers who work directly with families of intellectually disabled (ID) children. The survey was based on case descriptions (vignettes) which manipulated the level of challenging (violent) behavior of the ID child, and the level of violence in the parent's response. Following each vignette, the worker was asked for the degree to which certain intervention decisions should be taken. The survey also included measures of attitudes towards ID persons, attitudes towards violence, and social desirability scale.
Analysis: The analysis examined the influence of relative and absolute levels of violence, as well as attitudes and professional background on the decision to use legally mandated measures, or to refrain from intervening. The analysis was carried on the vignette level (807 cases), while using Generalized Estimating Equations (GEE) in order to control for the clustering of vignettes within workers.
Results: Attitudes towards ID persons, attitudes towards violence, and differences in professional training had no effect on the decision process. On the other hand, measures of the absolute level of violence in the situation, and relative level of violent reaction, impacted the decision making.
Conclusions and implications: the results indicate that whereas personal attitudes have no impact on the decision making process, social workers' intervention decisions are influenced by the total level of violent occurrences within a family as well as by the relative level of force used. In other words, if the child has used a severe level of challenging (violent) behavior, a severe reaction by the parent was deemed less problematic compared to same kind of reaction when the child's behavior was less violent. Thus, although the law regarding violence towards children is clear and unbending, social workers who are in the process of implementing this law, use considerations of relative responsibility in their implementation decisions. The results are discussed within the theoretical frameworks of decision making, attributions of responsibility, and "street-level-bureaucracy".