Buros-Nebraska Series on Measurement and Testing


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Family Assessment, ed. Jane Close Conoley & Elaine Buterick Werth (Lincoln, NE: Buros Institute of Mental Measurements, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1995).


Copyright © 1995 by Buros Institute of Mental Measurements. Digital Edition copyright © 2012 Buros Center for Testing.


Assessing individuals who are members of minority or recent immigrant groups creates special and critical challenges for psychologists committed to equitable practices (Dana, 1993). As previous chapters in this volume have shown, the goal of accomplishing valid family assessments is daunting in its own right. Culturally sensitive procedures of family evaluation are, perhaps, even more difficult to conceptualize and administer.

This chapter will examine several issues relevant to expertise in assessing families whose cultural framework differs from the majority of the u.s. population. The topics to be covered include:

1. What is cultural sensitivity?
2. What are the important constructs to assess in families and how might these constructs vary across U.S. minority and recent immigrant groups?
3. How do the most ' frequently used paper-and-pencil assessment devices appear relative to ethnic diversity concerns?
4. What are some suggestions to promote valid assessment procedures?

Family practitioners rely on valid measurement and interpretations to plan for effective treatments. Families are not diagnosed in the ways in which individuals are (e.g., personality traits or intelligence), but they are frequent consumers of mental health services. Clients from ethnic minority families present interesting assessment concerns for the practitioner.


Culture is an intricate web of meanings through which people, individually and as a group, shape their lives. Culture, however, does not have absolute predictive power concerning the behavior of members of a group. Further, every culture continues to evolve. It is a set of tendencies or possibilities from which to choose.

Cultural paradigms must be recognized and understood. At the same time, these paradigms must be viewed as broadly comprising cultural tendencies that individual families may accept, deny, modify, or exhibit situationally. Forcing a family or an individual to fit within any preconceived cultural model is not cultural sensitivity-it is stereotyping (Anderson & Fenichel, 1989; Steele, 1990).

An acceptance that certain differences and similarities exist in families across cultural groups characterizes culturally sensitive assessments. These differences are neither good nor bad; better or worse; less or more intelligent. The awareness of this possibility and a flexible repertoire of responses are the important components of multicultural assessments of families.


A growing list of competencies or attributes of families that predict or correlate with positive adjustment for the family has appeared. Some of the important constructs include: good communication skills, excellent problem solving, provision of emotional support, authoritative socialization strategies, provision of child supervision, satisfaction with work, positive orientation toward education, good mental health (or at least the absence of serious psychopathology), no substance abuse, physical affection toward children; successful infant attachment, and good marital or relationship quality.

Successful families are good at managing the stresses within their nuclear or extended group and dealing with the press of other environmental demands. Poverty, unemployment, residence in violent neighborhoods, a history of antisocial behavior in the family, and parental failures in school are all risk factors for family and child adjustment.

Some of the family dynamics just mentioned may present fairly straightforward assessment targets (e.g., where do people live; are there two responsible adults or an adaptive network of adults to care for children; are the adults employed). Others, however, may be difficult to measure in any family and hard to interpret across cultural groups (e.g., marital quality, socialization strategies, problem solving) (Beavers & Hampson, 1990; Oster & Caro, 1990).

Other chapters in this volume detail assessment issues with majority culture families. The constructs and methods mentioned in those chapters may also be useful with families from many cultures. The application of identical procedures and interpretative norms may, however, result in unreliable and invalid measurement. Results of analyses of minority members' scores on individual personality measures (e.g., Campos, 1989; Dahlstrom, 1986; Greene, 1987; Padilla & Ruiz, 1975; Velasquez, 1992) point out the dangers of using majority culture expectations to interpret minority performance on tests. Such threats to validity are likely to exist at the family level of assessment as well due to differences among family cultural patterns.