Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling Psychology & Community Services


Child abuse is a serious societal problem that has occurred throughout history. However, only recently has society begun to formally confront child maltreatment by requiring professionals, including psychologists, to identify children who are being abused or neglected, through formal, mandated reporting. Child abuse reports are general addressed by social workers from Social Service Departments. However, this system is not always effective. Despite the mandates to report, psychologists have chosen to not report some cases, especially cases of mild physical abuse.

Psychologists make decisions regarding whether or not to report. This study elaborates on and extends what is known about psychologists' behaviors, attitudes and beliefs regarding a proposed statute allowing for greater discretion, as proposed by Finkelhor and Zellman (1991), are explored.

Support for the proposed statutes was analyzed. The support was found to be bi-modal for the participants. This pattern was found for both “Consistent” and “Inconsistent” reporters. Participants' perceptions of the effectiveness of the current and proposed statutes were explored. The effectiveness was explored across three levels of abuse severity. Participants tended to believe the current statutes were effective at identifying and protecting children who were more severely abused. Participants tended to believe that the proposed statutes would be more effective for milder forms of physical abuse.

Psychologists' beliefs regarding the effectiveness of the statutes across severity and disclosure levels were explored. Finally, participants' beliefs about the likelihood of continued abuse to families receiving services (abuse-focused therapy and child protective services) were assessed. Participants believed that families involved in abuse-focused therapy or child protective services were more likely to discontinue being abusive. Furthermore, participants tended to believe that families that received neither service were likely to continue being abusive.

Societal implications include the possible need to reassess the effectiveness of the current statutes. The results indicate that an alternative model, allowing for discretion in mild cases, would have support of many and may be more effective for mild abuse. Implications for training include a need for better understanding of child abuse identification as well as the decision-making process. Further training on ethical and legal implications is also necessary.