Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Social Welfare


Willie Tolliver

Subject Categories

Social Work


data-mining; evaluation; foster care; mental health; mother; qualitative


This qualitative research study utilizes social constructionist theory and the client career perspective as a framework for developing a grounded theory that explains how mothers' mental health evaluations function in the context of foster care practice. Using clinical data-mining methodology, the foster care records of sixteen mothers were purposively selected. Selection criteria included having completed psychiatric and psychological evaluations and having one child or more in foster care. The sample was divided into subgroups of substance users (n = 9) and those who did not use substances (n = 7), mothers who acknowledged their mental illness (n = 6) and those who did not (n = 10). Findings describe the sample's demographic profiles and psychosocial characteristics, impact of acknowledgment on utilization of mental health evaluations and the relationship among variables such as mental health diagnosis and service plan adherence on children's permanency outcomes.

Emergent themes informed the formulation of the study's grounded theory. Substance abuse accounted for slight variations between the two groups. Drug users were more likely to be African-American and a year older than mothers who refrained from drug use. The whole sample was single mothers of low socioeconomic status whose children tended to have special needs. Although both groups experienced severe psychosocial stressors, substance abusers were slightly more likely to experience childhood trauma and foster care placement. The effect of acknowledgment was mixed with six mothers (3 who acknowledged, 3 who did not) reunifying with their children. Service plan adherence and taking responsibility for their children's maltreatment also affected children's permanency outcomes.

The grounded theory posits that mothers' mental health assessments function as an organizing mechanism for the foster care agency's development of the mothers' service plans. The mothers are socially constructed as women in need of evaluations due to their attitudes and behaviors. Following the completion of the assessments, service recommendations are purported and expected to be followed by the mothers. Implications for practice, research, policy and administration are discussed, especially for applying a trauma-informed practice lens and solution-focused casework models for work with mentally ill mothers with children in foster care.

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Social Work Commons