• Dec 2006/Jan 2007
  • Vol. 7, No. 9

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Comparing Instruments for Family Assessment

Valid and reliable instruments can help caseworkers with family assessment by structuring the collection of information and ensuring that relevant categories of information are included. A recent study evaluated 85 family assessment instruments to identify those that are comprehensive, valid and reliable, and practical for use in child welfare settings.

To evaluate the instruments for comprehensiveness, researchers compared them against the five family assessment domains described by the Children’s Bureau (Comprehensive Family Assessment Guidelines for Child Welfare at www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/family_assessment/index.htm):

  • Patterns of social interaction
  • Parenting practices
  • Background characteristics of parents
  • Problems in access to basic necessities
  • Other behaviors, including domestic violence, mental illness, and substance abuse

Validity and reliability were based on psychometric data provided in the literature, and practicality was determined by evaluating such factors as ease of administration.

Researchers identified seven instruments as most comprehensive and appropriate for use in a child welfare setting. Others showed promise as specialized instruments for assessing specific family assessment domains. For example, five measures were identified as useful for the assessment of parenting practices and also showed promise for assessing family strengths, developing service plans, and monitoring progress.

As part of a comprehensive family assessment process, results from family assessment instruments can be used to make decisions about referrals to services and to monitor client progress. Agencies conducting family assessments need to examine their key administrative areas to make sure that policies, training, supervision, and systems of accountability are in place to support the assessment process.

To read the full study on family assessment instruments, Family Assessment in Child Welfare Services: Instrument Comparisons, by Michelle A. Johnson et al., visit the Center for Social Services Research website:

cssr.berkeley.edu/bassc/public/BASSC_FamilyAssessment_FULL_REPORT091406.pdf (PDF - 255 KB)

Related Items

Children’s Bureau Express wrote about family assessment in the following articles:

  • "Foster Family Assessments" (September/October 2006, Resources section)
  • "Family Assessment Guidelines for Child Welfare" (June 2005)

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