UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Knowledge of child development and the impact of maltreatment on children among justice professionals : a mixed methods study exploring current knowledge, attitudes towards practices, and knowledge translation preferences Spenrath, Maddison Alanna


The prenatal period and early years of life are a time at which development of the brain and biological systems progresses rapidly, influenced by the quality of the early environments in which a child is raised (McCain, Mustard, & Shanker, 2007). Infants and children exposed to early adversity, such as poverty, neglect, abuse, violence in the home, or unresponsive caregivers, are at an increased risk for negative developmental health outcomes (Lupien, McEwen, Gunnar, & Heim, 2009). The population of children involved in the child protection and family justice system has a high incidence of exposure to adverse early experiences (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2010). Children and families encounter many professionals in the legal and justice system involved in providing supports and services to families and determining care and custody arrangements for children, including mediators, lawyers and judges. Knowledge on the topics of early child development and the impact of maltreatment may assist these professionals in working with children and families. The present study explores knowledge on the topics of early child development and the impact of maltreatment, the influence of knowledge on attitudes towards practices involving infants and children, and knowledge translation preferences of judges, lawyers and mediators working in the child protection and family law sectors in Alberta. A mixed methods approach combining focus groups within a small purposeful sample and a survey with a larger sample of the population was applied. A joint analysis of the results from both methods concludes that knowledge varies among the professional population and identifies areas where knowledge can influence attitudes towards practices involving children, such as in representation and recommendations to clients by lawyers and mediators, and in assessing evidence and making judgments in the best interests of the child. Preferences for knowledge translation approaches include traditional professional development activities, consultation with colleagues, and evidence provided by expert witnesses. Recommendations for further research to characterize knowledge of child development among justice professionals, to expand approaches to knowledge translation, and to promote specialization of professionals and courts are put forth with the aim to protect and support our most vulnerable citizens.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada