Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Gregory L. Stuart

Committee Members

Todd Moore, Deborah Welsh


Extant research has identified important risk factors for single and recurrent child maltreatment. Parental substance use, severe mental illness, and intimate partner violence (IPV) are among the risk factors significantly associated with child maltreatment. However, there is a paucity of research that examines whether empirically supported risk factors are significantly associated with psychologists’ assessments of parental fitness and courts’ decisions regarding reunification following allegations of child maltreatment. Thus, in an effort to elucidate the process through which reunification or termination of parental rights is achieved in cases of child maltreatment, the current study (1) examined the relative importance of different varieties of psychopathology in predicting outcomes; and history of IPV on evaluations of parental risk and fitness made by an assessing forensic psychologist, and the factors associated with courts’ decisions regarding the termination of parental rights. The sample consisted of a large sample of parents (n = 320) seeking reunification following allegations of child maltreatment. Results demonstrated that the prevalence of substance use disorders, IPV perpetration, and severe mental illness was significantly higher than in the general population. Results further indicated that drug diagnoses and severe mental illness were associated with psychologist-assessed higher parental unfitness. Finally, results indicated that parental substance use, severe mental illness, IPV, and the psychologist’s assessment of parental fitness were not significantly associated with the court’s termination of parental rights rulings. The clinical and research implications of the study’s findings are discussed.

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