Assessing of Parenting Competency in Mothers with Mental Illness / Edition 1

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The stakes are undeniably high when it comes to deciding whether a mother with mental illness can raise her child in a safe, nurturing environment. Now, mental health professionals will have sound assessment strategies—refined over 10 years of study—that fairly evaluate the parenting competency of mothers with a wide range of mental illnesses, from "baby blues" to schizophrenia.

Going beyond measuring only the mother's degree of mental illness, the safety of the environment, or the rate of child development, this groundbreaking resource integrates multiple approaches so that professionals understand the full picture of parenting competency.

Mental health professionals will

  • Assess with confidence. This program is backed by more than 10 years of refinement and testing, and has been shown to produce superior evaluations.
  • Accurately profile parenting strengths and weaknesses with state-of-the-art methodology.
  • Enhance every part of their parenting evaluation process, including interviews and observations, home visits, report writing, sharing results with the family, and testifying in court.
  • Discover the eight critical principles for ensuring that an assessment is sound.
  • Learn about available assessment instruments and get guidance on when to use each.
  • Limit bias by recognizing factors that can influence assessment results, such as cultural differences and high stress levels of parent and child.
  • Get keen insight into life with mental illness through the compelling stories of mothers and children.

With this much-needed resource, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and child welfare professionals will be primed to conduct more accurate assessments, make informed decisions, build stronger mother–child relationships, and facilitate family preservation whenever possible.

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Editorial Reviews

Meghan Kirshbaum

"An invaluable resource for practitioners involved with mothers with mental illness and their children."
Presiding Judge, Miami-Dade Juvenile Court - Cindy Lederman
"What we can learn about the parent, the child, and the relationship with the help of Dr. Ostler's work can form the basis of individual case plans that can provide the case specific interventions we need to provide the best chance of keeping the family together."
Professor of Psychiatry, Licensed Psychologist Provider, Center for Mental Health Services Research; Department of Psych - Joanne Nicholson
"An essential guide, drawing from an extensive review of the scientific literature, exhaustive consideration of relevant assessment tools and strategies, and years of research and clinical practice."
Inspector General, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services - Denise Kane
"An indispensable reference . . . should be required reading for child welfare, mental health, and legal professionals who serve the children and families of our child protection courts."
Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services
"The book emphasizes the importance of assessing parenting directly and the reality that mental illness affects parenting behavior versus focusing on the mental illness. This point is extremely important, often overlooked, and an excellent contribution of the book."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781557666659
  • Publisher: Brookes, Paul H. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 11/1/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 188
  • Sales rank: 1,047,162
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Teresa Ostler, Ph.D. is Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Ostler is a licensed clinical psychologist and received her bachelor of arts degree and doctoral degree in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1973 and 1984, respectively. She joined the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an associate professor in 2003. Prior to this, she was a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the lead psychologist on the Parenting Assessment Team, a multidisciplinary team that assessed the parenting capabilities of individuals with mental illness who had lost custody of their children. Dr. Ostler's research focuses on parent–child attachment relationships, individuals with major mental illness as parents, children of parents with major mental illness and substance use problems, and children in foster care.

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Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from Chapter 5 of Assessment of Parenting Competency in Mothers with Mental Illness, by Teresa Ostler

Copyright © 2008 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


After assessors have a grasp on a mother's past parenting skills, they can turn to what is known about the current skills that a mother brings to the parenting role. Table 5.1 provides an overview of critical domains of which assessors should gather information in the caregiving assessment.

Ability to Care for Self and Others

It is important to assess to what extent the mother can provide for herself and meet her own needs, especially if the mother's illness is chronic and severe. This includes determining whether a mother is able to maintain adequate housing for the child, hold down a job, or have enough income to make ends meet and whether she is able to get meals for herself and to provide for her own need for safety. If a mother cannot meet her own needs for shelter, safety, and food, it is highly unlikely that she will be able to provide for her children. Sorting out whether the difficulties are due to poverty alone, or to seriously compromised adaptive living skills, is essential.

Scales of adaptive living, such as the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, Second Edition (Sparrow, Balla, & Cicchetti, 2005), use a structured questionnaire format to obtain objective information on a mother's overall level of adaptive functioning in various domains, including communication skills, daily living skills, socialization skills, motor skills, and maladaptive behavior.

Closely linked to a mother's ability to care for her own basic needs is her ability to meet her children's basic needs, including their needs for food, shelter, clothing, and safety. Other basic abilities to assess include whether the mother can ensure that her children's health and educational needs are met (see Appendix A).

Parenting Behavior

Observing how a mother interacts with her children is another essential part of the caregiving assessment (Barnum, 1997; Budd & Holdsworth, 1996; Reder & Lucey, 1995b). Observations can provide direct evidence of a mother's ability to protect her children and to supervise their whereabouts. The following features of parenting behavior are especially valuable to assess because they reveal information about the parent–child attachment relationship (Bowlby, 1988): how a mother comforts her child when the child is ill, hurt, or frightened; how she reads and responds to her children's cues; whether and how she prioritizes her children's needs; and whether she values the child and helps the child to feel safe and secure.

Questionnaires are another way that clinicians can assess parenting behavior. Because many measures have questions that ask a mother to report on her own behavior, they may have limited validity, especially if the mother is seeking to regain custody of a child. The validity of questionnaires is improved if they are part of an integrative assessment that examines patterns across data sources and time periods.

Rating scales that are based on independent observations of behavior are preferable to self-report measures because they provide a more objective measure of parenting behavior. Rating scales that have proven reliability and validity (i.e., those that can be replicated and measure what they purport to measure) should be selected whenever possible. Scales that are selected should also provide a representative sample of the parent's behavior and not just a narrow aspect of the parent's activities or attitudes (Jordan &Franklin, 2003). Clinicians should check information from rating scales with information from other sources to determine if the behavior and findings

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Table of Contents

About the Author
Foreword Patrick Tolan

  1. Assessing Parenting in Mothers with Mental Illness: A Daunting Task
  2. Mental Illness: Types and Effects on Parenting
  3. Guidelines for Assessment
  4. The Assessment Process
  5. Assessing Caregiving Capabilities
  6. The Psychiatric Evaluation
  7. Social and Environmental Influences
    Heather Hasslinger
  8. Children’s Perspectives and Needs
  9. Growing Up Crazy
    Niki Grajewski


Appendix A Instruments for Assessing Risk of Child Maltreatment
Appendix B Resources for Clinicians

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