Differential Perceptions of Harsh Parenting in Foster Parenting and Non-Foster Parenting Contexts

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Child and Family Studies


Matthew K. Mulvaney


foster care, perceptions, social worker

Subject Categories

Counseling | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Work


The focus of this research is to examine whether there are differences in which individuals, particularly those individuals likely to enter the social work profession, evaluate harsh parenting in foster and non-foster parenting contexts. Relevant research and policies pertaining to child abuse and neglect, reporting child maltreatment, social work, and the foster care system are reviewed. Implicit personality theory, the private sphere of family life, and professional socialization are used to explain the formation and impact of perceptions about foster parents. Using vignettes of child transgressions and harsh parental reactions, the study examines undergraduate (n = 172) and graduate social work students’ (n = 77) perceptions about foster parents versus non-foster parents and the likelihood of reporting suspected maltreatment to Child Protective Services (CPS), as well as the perception of the maltreatment. It was hypothesized that participants would be more critical of potential abuse by foster parents than non-foster parents and that the preexisting attitudes of the participants towards the foster care system would be associated with their evaluations of the parenting behavior in a foster context. The results indicate that, in certain settings, participants do perceive the harsh parenting of foster children to be more serious and less acceptable than that of non-foster children but also that the process of forming evaluations is complex across these settings and is determined by attitudes and participant educational status.


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