Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Survey Approaches to the Assessment of Family Functioning: Conceptual, Operational, and Analytical Issues

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Survey Approaches to the Assessment of Family Functioning: Conceptual, Operational, and Analytical Issues

Article excerpt

This article reviews several conceptual, operational, and analytical issues related to survey approaches to the assessment of family functioning. First, a multidimensional conceptualization of family functioning that is embedded within a family systems framework is presented. Second, operational issues pertaining to the assessment of family functioning when conceived of as a complex and multidimensional construct are discussed. Lastly, measurement strategies and analytical approaches that enable researchers to make the level of functioning found within the family system the unit of analysis are explored.

The notion that measurement is crucial to the social sciences is a commonplace and unexceptional observation. While the importance of good measurement is openly acknowledged by the research community, there is, at the same time, often a lack of systematic attention to the practice of good measurement (Carmines & Zeller, 1979). In this article we review several conceptual, operational, and analytical issues that remain points of contention when it comes to survey approaches to the assessment of family functioning.

SURVEY APPROACHES TO THE ASSESSMENT OF FAMILY FUNCTIONING: IS THERE A STATE OF THE ART?

Our goal in writing this article is to provide an overview of issues that must be confronted by those who use survey approaches to the assessment of family functioning. To this end, problems with specific measures will be discussed to illustrate key points. However, the scope of this review and critique of measures is not comprehensive nor do we make the assumption that there are problems with all of the existing measures.

We would be remiss, however, if we did not comment in general about the "state of the art" when it comes to the assessment of family functioning. Critical theorists and methodologists have been calling attention for some time to a rash of conceptual and psychometric limitations associated with existing and often widely used measures of family functioning (Grotevant, 1989; Grotevant & Carlson, 1989; L'Abate & Bagarozzi, 1993). Grotevant (1989), for example, suggested that "the lack of unified theory about the family has led to confusion about what is to be measured, a proliferation of assessment procedures, insufficient attention to psychometric standards, and consequently, restricted integration of findings across studies" (p. 114). Furthermore, Grotevant and Carlson (1989) noted in their comprehensive review of family assessment techniques that "new coding schemes and measures surface frequently without sufficient regard for theoretical underpinnings, psychometric quality or careful development of linkages between theory and assessment" (p. 5).

As a way of illustrating these points, consider the case of the Family Environment Scale (FES; Moos, 1974). This measure has been used to assess aspects of family functioning in hundreds of studies since the early 1980s (Waldron, Sabatelli, & Anderson, 1990), in spite of the fact that examinations of the psychometric foundation of the FES called into question the factor structure and validity of the measure as early as 1982 (cf. Robertson & Hyde, 1982; Roosa & Beals, 1990; Waldron et al., 1990). Such methodological critiques have gone largely unheeded as is witnessed by the continued wide use of the measure.

Another example is the Family Assessment Device (FAD), a measure designed to assess family functioning based upon the McMaster Model of Family Functioning (Epstein, Baldwin, & Bishop, 1983). L'Abate and Bagarozzi (1993) commented on the FAD as follows:

As far as we can tell from the procedures outlined by Epstein et al. (1983), this study represents one of the most poorly conceived and executed research attempts that we have come across in our review of published assessment instruments. The FAD does not rest firmly on any recognizable theory of family process or family structure. In terms of the domains of family functioning that this instrument is designed to assess, the coverage is, at best incomplete. …

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