Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

January 1999


Published in Assessment of Family Violence: A Clinical and Legal Sourcebook, Second Edition, edited by Robert T. Ammerman and Michael Hersen. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York, 1999. Pages 127–156. Copyright © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Used by permission.


Widespread attention to the problem of child physical abuse has increased dramatically in recent decades. Extensive research evidence has described child physical abuse as a complex, multidimensional phenomenon that is best assessed by procedures using multiple modalities (e.g., interview, self-report, direct observation) that address multiple content areas. Comprehensive assessment is essential for identifying risk and occurrence of abuse, guiding the focus or direction of treatment, as well as monitoring treatment efficacy and outcome, all of which may be disseminated to interested parties as appropriate (e.g., CPS, judicial system, school, other treatment providers). Increasingly specific and relevant procedures have become available for many of the commonly targeted areas of assessment. In general, recent advances have been especially significant in the development of self-report and analogue assessments to measure parental responses in a variety of contexts (Hansen & MacMillan, 1990; Lutzker, 1998; Lutzker et al., 1998; Wolfe & McEachran, 1997).

The complex, multiproblem nature of maltreating families and child physical abuse presents many assessment difficulties for both clinicians and researchers. The assessment of physically abusive families is complicated by issues such as mandatory reporting and other legal considerations, the potential unwillingness of parents to cooperate, and contextual factors and stressors that interfere with a family's ability to participate (e.g., social isolation, relationship problems, financial difficulties). Although there are many suggested strategies, further research on the. most effective and appropriate methods of addressing these issues and conducting comprehensive and accurate assessments is needed.