Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16469 Consistency Between Self-Reported Risks and Strengths Among Prospective Adoptive Couples: Findings From Home Studies

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 3:00 PM
Cabin John (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Thomas M. Crea, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Richard P. Barth, PhD, Professor and Dean, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Heather M. Moreno, BA, Research Assistant, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Background and Purpose: All families who wish to adopt a child must undergo a home study process to assess their suitability. Much of this information is derived from self-report, but research suggests that adoption applicants portray themselves in the best possible light. This study examines applicants' similarities and differences in reporting risks and strengths, a critical part of the home study process. This study is guided by two research questions: (1) What patterns emerge for self-reported childhood experiences and current functioning between males and females? (2) How do males and females differ on the prevalence of reporting serious issues of concern, for themselves and for their partners?

Methods: Researchers asked adoption program managers in 4 states (CO, NJ, NV, and UT) implementing the SAFE home study method to provide hard copies of completed questionnaires. All checklist items were entered into an administrative database. The final sample for this study includes 148 home studies for male-female couples (N=296 individuals). The mean age of applicants was 40.0 (SD=9.2). The largest numbers of applicants were applying for foster care adoptions (45.9%). Researchers sorted all checklist items into indices of “strengths” and “concerns” pertaining to Childhood Experiences and Current Functioning, and vetted this list with the original authors of the items.

Analysis: For Childhood Experiences, paired samples t-tests are used to examine mean differences between males (N=148) and females (N=148). For Current Functioning, paired samples t-tests are used to examine mean differences between: males and females; self and partner ratings; males' self-reports and females' partner reports; and females' self-reports and males' partner reports. Chi-square analyses measured male-female differences in reporting serious issues of concern; self-ratings and partner-ratings; and failing to report a behavior that an applicant's partner reported for him or her (i.e., “underreporting”).

Results: Applicants rated more strengths than concerns regarding childhood experiences. Women reported more concerns about their childhood (p<.05) and health (p<.001). Males rated higher concerns in Plans for Discipline (p<.01). Half reported someone in their families using drugs/alcohol. Underreporting was least frequent for behavioral risk (7.1%) and most frequent for drug use (19.9%). Females tended to be more likely to underreport drug use for themselves or other family members than males (p<.06). Overall, 33.1% of the sample underreported at least one issue, with females being more likely to underreport than males (p<.05).

Conclusions and Implications: Drug use emerged as a primary area for within-couple inconsistency and underreporting. Females underreported drug use and overall serious issues, a pattern which does not seem related to males' overreporting as no significant differences emerged in male-female self-reported drug use. Home study workers may need to be aware that, while females seem to communicate more strengths and concerns in other areas, they may be more reticent to divulge information about serious concerns. For adoption home studies, relying on sources beyond self-report seems critical in home study practice, particularly given the high rate of reported serious issues of concern in this study.