The purpose of this paper is to critique an article from the National Association of Social Workers, Inc. The article selected is titled “Child custody loss among women with persistent severe mental illness.” (Hollingsworth, 2004) I selected this article due to its applicability to child protective services which is where my field practicum is taking place. The components of this article are clearly defined and broken down into subheadings as followed: Abstract, Introduction, Theoretical Framework and Research Design, Method, Analysis, Results, Discussion, Implications for Mental Health Policy and Services, Conclusion, and References. (Hollingsworth, 2004) The layout of the article makes it easy for the reader to follow and understand key elements and terms of the research. The title provides a clear cut description of what the article is written about as well. The variables are identified and defined under the “methods” subheading; it also provides a definition of individual variables, environmental variables, and how child custody is defined for the purposes of this research. (Hollingsworth, 2004)
The statement of the problem is descriptively explained in the introduction and supported with statistical analysis provided in the research article. The purpose is clearly defined under the “theoretical framework and research design” section explaining that the study was to test the hypothesis which stated that by researching history of child custody loss among women with severe persistent mental illness the custody loss would be higher than those women who did not have this type of illness. (Hollingsworth, 2004) The hypothesis and research question provide insight into how the author plans to show a correlation and then build effective policies and interventions based upon this evidence. The research question asks “What are the circumstances under which women with severe mental illness lose custody of their children?” (Hollingsworth, 2004) This gives the reader a concise question that allows them to visualize the direction of the research itself. The research question is quickly followed by characteristics that have been observed among the participants which define what may have led to a mother losing custody of her child.
The article then provides examples of behavior patterns and socioeconomic factors that may impact the variables mentioned. (Hollingsworth, 2004) The theoretical framework and research section re-states the purpose of this research and also provides supportive information as to why this knowledge is important to obtain for the target population mention. The theoretical framework states that the author used the Human Ecology Theory, which fits the problem presented because there is enough past information available, and biopsychosocial elements provided to be able to test the hypothesis and provide reliable/measurable data. (Hollingsworth, 2004) Based upon the information in the article the Human Ecology Theory will view the mother with severe persistent mental illness in her environment, assist in predicting outcomes, and also provide measurable data. The data collected will enable social workers and mental health workers to connect these women and families to the correct resources so that the mother may regain custody and have access to the resources that she requires.
The variables presented appear to be appropriate for the problem as it has been defined. The individual’s biopsychosocial information is measurable including whether there is a history of substance abuse and treatment for mental illness. The environmental variables are also measurable by gathering data related to the individual’s neighborhood, child behavior, poverty conditions, and social support. (Hollingsworth, 2004) It is important to mention that each term used in the variables section was further defined and a description was given as to how the information was considered from these separate groups. The author also recognizes that there are factors besides the mother’s mental illness that could play a part in her mental functioning. (Hollingsworth, 2004) I feel that it is important for the author to acknowledge these outlying factors that may influence the data that has been collected.
The assumptions made in this article include some bias toward how child protective services and the legal system will treat a mother that has persistent severe mental illness. It is not hard to understand why this assumption is made and it is reasonable to assume that the legal system and child protective services may assume too much based upon a quick assessment of the mother’s mental state. I feel that the discrimination based on the research information provided is also related to geographic areas more so than others. If there is a low income area that is lacking access to qualified mental health professionals it would be safe to assume that child protective services would remove the children since other resources are not available. The overall design of this article is constructed around quantitative data with the results of the research being constructed around this format; the author also provides some supportive evidence through qualitative research. The design is appropriate to answering the research questions and providing an easy to follow guide for the readers to digest the information.
In my opinion the author also did a good job recognizing different threats to the validity of the data that was collected. The author did this by recognizing what those threats were and how it was accounted for in the data that was collected, and what impact it may have had on the results. The sample selection was appropriately described and broken down into measurable categories. The author stated: “Participants were identified from among those enrolled in a National Institute for Mental Illness funded three-wave longitudinal study of mothers with severe mental illness.” (Hollingsworth, 2004) The author further explains that the sample size began with 379 women; after wave 3 of the study 322 women remained. (Hollingsworth, 2004) Women were removed from the study throughout the study depending upon different variables listed as disqualifiers, such as a mother losing custody of her child/children for less than three months.
Some women chose to remove themselves from the study and others lost contact with the individuals conducting the study at different times which in turn made the women disqualified. (Hollingsworth, 2004) The process of collecting the data is clearly defined under the “method” section of the article. The author describes the structure of the questionnaire as a “3 wave longitudinal study.” (Hollingsworth, 2004) In my opinion the inconsistencies would come from the participant answering truthfully and consistently within the 3 wave study. In the 3 wave study the data was collected initially through structured interview questions, with some open-ended questions used, this is where some of the inconsistencies could be from depending on who was analyzing the answers. (Hollingsworth, 2004) The author stated that a “life history calendar” was included in the 3rd wave to increase accuracy. (Hollingsworth, 2004) Another consideration would be to note that the participants were paid to participate in the study, but the interview was conducted in the privacy of the participant’s home. (Hollingsworth, 2004)
The interviews were conducted by a trained female interviewer that was racially and ethnically similar to that of the participant. (Hollingsworth, 2004) This is note-worthy because it shows some variables that were not stated as having a possible influence on the results of the data collected. I would take into consideration that the interviewer, although professionally trained, may have had biases in favor of the participants that were subconsciously conveyed and could have led the participants to answer the interviewer in a particular manner. The results were able to depict what the variables between the participants that permanently lost custody of their children and those that did not lose custody of their children. One interesting finding is that women that were not married were more likely to permanently lose custody of their children. (Hollingsworth, 2004) The hypothesis for this provided by the author is that the married women more than likely had more immediate support in the home. (Hollingsworth, 2004)
One of the variables listed was the behavior problems from the children of women with persistent mental illness; the author notes that in order to determine whether this is the children simply reacting to the mother’s persistent severe mental illness or whether the children have true behavioral issues needs to be studied further. (Hollingsworth, 2004) With that being considered the results found that the children’s behavioral issues had little impact on whether or not the mother lost custody. (Hollingsworth, 2004) The implications recognized are geared toward mental health policy and services; the author states that one part of the study that was initially thought of as an individual variable was actually something that could be considered as an environmental factor as well. (Hollingsworth, 2004)
The example given was that unmarried women may not be discriminated against due to be unmarried and this being the cause for their custody loss, but may have lost custody due to less resources than someone who has a partner.(Hollingsworth, 2004) The second noteworthy implication is that individuals with active symptoms of psychosis or depression can present a significant risk to their children, so the children are removed for their own protection and not due to discriminatory factors.(Hollingsworth, 2004)
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