Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Social Welfare


Irwin Epstein

Committee Members

Roberta Graziano

Janice Wood Wetzel

Subject Categories

Social Welfare


This study reports the perspectives of clinical social workers on the mothers of sexually abused children whom they saw for treatment. The subjects were 15 masters-level social workers in an urban child treatment program. The study used qualitative methods based on grounded theory to examine professionals' social constructions of mothers of sexually abused children. The child's disclosure of incest provided the study's conceptual focus, since historically professionals constructed the "collusive mother," even though prior empirical research never supported maternal collusion or culpability for incest.

Respondents were interviewed for approximately one hour using a semi-structured interview guide; nearly one hundred hours of clinical case conferences were observed; and corresponding written treatment summaries were read and evaluated.

Findings revealed: (1) that the political, social and fiscal context of agency clinical social work practice influenced respondents' constructions of mothers of sexually abused children; (2) that these clinical social workers ranked mothers along continua representing post-disclosure actions and beliefs, and used concepts derived from trauma theory to account for these; (3) the case conferences constituted social rituals with manifest and latent functions, with both functions affecting how clinicians constructed mothers. Implications for social work practice, administration, research and policy are discussed.


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