Academic journal article Social Work

Families with Children with Emotional Disorders: A Review of the Literature

Academic journal article Social Work

Families with Children with Emotional Disorders: A Review of the Literature

Article excerpt

Thinking of some children as emotionally disordered or disturbed is a recent phenomenon. Before the 1920s when children's behavioral and emotional problems first received attention with the establishment of child guidance clinics, needy children in the United States generally were thought of as dependent or delinquent (Petr & Spano, 1990). From the 1950s to the 1970s, the number of children in U.S. mental hospitals and residential treatment centers tripled (Petr & Spano, 1990). This trend went almost unnoticed by the public as the needs of children with emotional problems were largely ignored (Knitzer, 1982) in spite of federal studies such as the report of the Joint Commission on the Mental Health of Children (Joint Commission, 1969; Meyers, 1985). It was not until the publication of Unclaimed Children (Knitzer, 1982) that public attention was drawn to the needs of children with serious emotional disorders.

As Petr and Spano (1990) pointed out, social work has demonstrated ambivalence about whether to institutionalize children or keep them with their families. Knowing what to do for or with children with emotional disorders and designing social work interventions for them is a complex problem. Part of this complexity is in defining the role of parents in interventions. Knitzer (1982) pointed out that many parents reported being blamed by the professionals and the public for causing their children's problems: "The persistence of this attitude is a tragic legacy of early efforts to explain children's problems as resulting from poor parenting". This blaming of parents is primarily "mother-blaming." In a review of clinical journal articles from 1970, 1976, and 1982, in which the etiology of someone's emotional problems was discussed, Caplan and Hall-McCorquodale (1985) concluded that

the overwhelming picture in all journals for more than 63 items |such as whether mother's pathology or father's affected the family; whether only mother or only father was involved in treatment; number of words used to describe mother compared to number used to describe father~ was one of mother-blaming. This picture was not affected by sex of the author or by the year of publication for any of the 63 items.

In all, the authors documented more than 70 mental health problems that have been attributed to mothers, including aggressiveness, anorexia, autism, encopresis, enuresis, schizophrenia, suicidal behavior, tantrums, and truancy.

Parent-blaming is evident not only in the clinical research literature studied by Caplan and Hall-McCorquodale (1985) but also in textbooks currently used to train mental health professionals. Wahl (1989) studied nine abnormal psychology textbooks published in 1986, 1987, and 1988 to determine the treatment of the concept of "schizophrenogenic parenting," the notion that parental behavior causes schizophrenia. Although research has failed to establish causal links between parent behavior and schizophrenic development and although a recent publication of the National Institute of Mental Health states that most researchers now agree parents do not cause schizophrenia, most of the textbooks did not accurately reflect current thought. In fact, some of the textbooks implied that parental causation of schizophrenia is likely and as yet has not been proved because of inadequate research. A recent review of the literature on the parent-professional relationship found that this literature has focused on parents' perceptions of their relationship with professionals and that parents perceive they are excluded, alienated, and blamed (Collins & Collins, 1990).

It is evident from the work of Caplan and Hall-McCorquodale (1985) and Wahl (1989) that families, parents in general and mothers in particular, are "blamed" for their children's mental and emotional disorders. As well, parents of children with emotional disorders indicate that they experience many practices of and encounters with professionals as exclusionary and blaming (Collins & Collins, 1990; Knitzer, 1982). …

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