Theses Doctoral

Personal motivation and child protection decision-making: The role of regulatory focus in removal recommendations

Feldman, Sara Wolf

Decision-making in the field of child protection has been the subject of focused study for decades, propelled by repeated reports of its questionable reliability. Although researchers have examined the extent to which caseworker characteristics influence child protection decision-making, studies into the influence of caseworker motivation on decision-making is scarce. This initial study into the regulatory focus of child protection investigators adds to the nascent body of knowledge on the impact of caseworker motivation on the specific decision of whether to place a child in out-of-home care. Drawing from Higgins' (1997) regulatory focus theory this study seeks to explain, at least in part, why caseworkers make the kinds of decisions they do. It was hypothesized that child protection investigators' placement recommendations would be related to their regulatory focus generally speaking, and in more pronounced ways for investigators with a strong prevention focus. A sample of 100 child protection investigators employed by a large urban public child welfare agency participated in the study, in which workplace regulatory focus was measured using the Work Regulatory Focus scale. Participants were asked to read and react to two vignettes adapted from actual child protection cases. Following each vignette were questions regarding placement recommendations, assessments of risk, and emotional reactions to reading the vignettes. Socio-demographic information was also collected. Findings suggest a relationship between regulatory focus and placement recommendations, although test statistics at the margin of statistical significance and low power preclude definitive statements as to whether the null hypotheses can truly be rejected. Interpretation is made more difficult given the duality that characterized the regulatory focus of this sample of child protection investigators, with more than half of the sample scoring high on both the prevention and promotion subscales of the WRF scale. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.



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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
McGowan, Brenda G.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 21, 2011