The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Assessing the Impact of a Training Intervention On Attitudes Toward Sexual Abuse Allegations

Friday, January 18, 2013: 10:30 AM
Nautilus 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Barrett Johnson, MSW, LCSW, Director, Child Welfare In-Service Training, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Cynthia Parry, PhD, Principal, CF Parry and Associates, Helena, MT
Leslie Zeitler, MSW, LCSW, Training and Evaluation Specialist, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose:  Much has been written on the impact of values and attitudes on clinical judgment in child sexual abuse cases.  Several studies offer evidence that assessment of the validity of sexual abuse allegations varies widely, and that this variation may be the result of subjectivity or bias by professionals.  (Review by Herman, 2009).  The methods and design of such studies present problems, however (Everson et al, 2012). While training is widely used to prepare child welfare professionals to make such assessments, little is known about the impact of the training on attitudes and biases. 

This exploratory evaluation study evaluates the impact of a standardized training intervention on attitudes toward child sexual abuse disclosures.  It was hypothesized that the participants (newly hired child welfare social workers) would shift their attitudes toward sexual abuse allegations after receiving the training, becoming more balanced in their attention to issues of under- and over-identification of abuse.

Methods:  Evaluators administered the Child Forensic Attitude Scale (CFAS) before and after a standardized training intervention.  The CFAS  is a 28-item survey assessing 3 forensic attitudes believed to influence professional judgments about allegations of child sexual abuse allegations: sensitivity (i.e., a focus on minimizing false negatives or errors of under identifying abuse); specificity (i.e., a focus on minimizing false positives or errors of over identifying abuse); and skepticism toward child and adolescent reports of child sexual abuse (Everson & Sandoval, 2011).

Results: Results showed significant shifts in all 3 scales from pre to post test.  Participants’ responses were consistent with less skepticism toward sexual abuse allegations, greater focus on minimizing under-reporting abuse, and greater focus on minimizing over-identification of abuse.  The training appears to have heightened awareness of issues of over- and under-reporting, while not increasing skepticism.

Implications and Discussion: This presentation will provide context on the evaluation of training programs, and the difficulty of assessing the impact of training and education on attitudes.  The CFAS will be reviewed, as well as details about the curriculum, analysis and results.  Participants in the session will be able to discuss the implications of the results, as well as future evaluation activities in the area that would build a larger body of evidence.  The findings and discussion are particularly relevant to improving methodologies of evaluating training and education programs, as well as improving the ability of training and education programs to improve practice in a very high-stakes area of human services.

Everson, M. and Sandoval, J. (2011) Forensic child sexual abuse evaluations: Assessing subjectivity and

bias in professional judgments. Child Abuse & Neglect, 35 (2011), 287–298.

Everson, M., Sandoval, J., Berson, N. Crowson, M and Robinson, H. (2012).  Reliability of Professional Judgments in Forensic Child Sexual Abuse Allegations: Unsettled or Unsettling Science?  Journal of Sexual Abuse, 21, 72-90.

Herman, S. (2009). Forensic child sexual abuse evaluations: Accuracy, ethics and admissibility. In K. Kuehnle, & M. Connell (Eds.), The evaluation of child sexual abuse allegations: A comprehensive guide to assessment and testing (pp. 247–266). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.