Integrative Theoretical
Anita P. Barbee, MSSW, Ph.D.
University of Louisville
July 12, 2013
California County Directors Meeting
What is a Theory?
• A theory or framework is an organized set of explanatory principles that
are susceptible to hypothesis testing.
• Good theory leads to research to test the theory or debunk the theory and
an evidence base to support the theory.
• Bad theory has either been disproven or is ideologically driven.
• In Social Work and Child Welfare, we are trying to understand what leads
to the problem of child maltreatment, the processes involved in child
maltreatment that are predictable and how to practice in such a way as to
prevent the problem or process from starting or intervene once the
problem has arisen.
• So there are 4 key pieces to an integrative theoretical framework in any
field like child welfare.
• Problem, Process, Practice and Prevention
• What causes the problem, what process goes on in the person and
situation to make the problem worse and how can we prevent or practice
in such a way as to successfully intervene?
Examples of Major Explanatory
• Good theory leads to research to test the theory and an evidence
base to support the theory or debunk the theory.
• There are thousands of studies to show that situational variables,
cognitions or thoughts and emotions lead to behavior and that the
way to decrease the behavior is to intervene at the
cognitive/emotional and behavioral level.
• In our case, situational stressors, certain cognitions and emotions
lead to violence towards or neglect of children.
• Psychodynamic Theory- there are unconscious processes that lead
to behavior has largely been unproven- while cognitions and
emotions can come on quickly and people may not be aware of
them, if they slow down and reflect, they can begin to capture
those thoughts and feelings that led them to engage in destructive
Alternate Theoretical Models
• Judicial theory relies on the notion that
people have an internal locus of control and
that all aggressive behaviors or behaviors that
break the law are intentional. Thus, people
need to be held accountable for their
behavior. The best way to prevent bad
behaviors is the fear of punishment and the
best way to treat these “criminals” is to punish
them for intentionally defying the law or
hurting others.
Medical/Psychiatric Model
• The Medical Model says that people act in a
bizarre way because of bad genetics, nutrition,
environmental toxins or exposure to other
chemicals (like alcohol and illegal drugs). Thus
the way to treat people is to give them
medications that change the chemistry and
lead to better behaviors.
Spiritual Model
• Like 12 Steps- While the group claims that
substance abuse is due to an addiction that is
biologically based, in actuality the real belief is
that people need God or a Higher Power to be
accountable to and to help them- along with a
strong community of social support that has
the same belief system- to overcome the
The Role of Mini-Theories
• Mini-theories can expound upon the problem,
process, practice or prevention and can be useful
• So one factor that that we have to take into
consideration when understanding what leads to
child maltreatment is the role of past traumatic
events and current PTSD on a parent’s ability to
think and feel which makes them more
vulnerable to hypervigilence and aggression or
that makes them numb and unable to care for
their children periodically (neglect)
Attachment Theory
• Attachment theory helps us understand why
children are distressed when separated from
parents, even those that maltreat them and
can help guide us in developing better
practices to prevent removal, make removal
less painful, ensure that the bond with
parents is maintained while the parent is
working on their issues, etc.
Theory of Change
• A theory of change defines all building blocks
required to bring about a given long-term
• How will we reach our goals? What steps lead
to certain short-term and long-term outcomes
• We usually depict our theory of change using
logic models

Integrative Theoretical Framework