Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Psychology

Major Professor

Vicky Phares, Ph.D.

Keywords

Children, Parents, Emotional and behavioral problems, Help-seeking decisions

Abstract

Service underutilization is a major problem facing children with emotional and behavioral problems. In addition, parents are often the ones most responsible for seeking help for their children. However, many children do not receive adequate help because parents do not perceive a problem or do not recognize that a child is in need. The present study examined parental thresholds for problem perception and subsequent help-seeking decisions based on children's behaviors presented in a vignette. It was hypothesized that the type of child behavior, child and parent gender, and other parental characteristics would be associated with different thresholds for problem perception and seeking professional help. Participants were 160 mothers and 63 fathers recruited via email using the snowball method and a university participant pool. It was found that mothers sought higher levels of services than fathers and that externalizing and comorbid internalizing and externalizing behaviors were rated as more serious and in need of higher levels of services than internalizing behaviors. In addition, exposure to child psychopathology, parenting stress, and tolerance for behavioral problems were associated with different thresholds for problem perception and help-seeking decisions. Treatment acceptability was also found to partially mediate between parental problem perception and seeking mental health services. In addition, parental characteristics were also found to contribute to differential help seeking decisions. These results are discussed in relation to how parents view their child's emotional and behavioral problems and what factors contribute to their decision to seek formal and informal services. Implications for clinical practice, limitations, and future directions of this research are also discussed.

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