First Advisor

Arthur C. Emlen

Term of Graduation

Spring 1969

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work




Child welfare -- Oregon -- Multnomah county, Child abuse -- Oregon -- Multnomah County



Physical Description

1 online resource (4, viii, 122 pages)


This is a descriptive study of the community process by which a complaint is made to a protective service agency. It is by this process that deviant child care is first identified and the decision to take action is made. The study develops a typology of the complaint process and identifies seven elements as significant in complaints that reach community agencies. The elements were: the complaint situation, the precipitating events that brought the complaint situation to the attention of someone outside the nuclear family, the relationship between the complainant and family, the complainant's motivation for responding to the complaint situation, the complainant's justification for making the complaint, the social support for making the complaint sought and received by the complainant, and the complainant's knowledge of an established channel of communication for making the complaint. Essentially the question asked was who complains about what to whom and why.

Data were obtained from questionnaires representing 101 complaints about ninety-six families. These questionnaires were completed with information from the Women's Protective Division of the Portland Police Bureau, the Multnomah County Juvenile Court, and the Multnomah County Public Welfare Commission on complaints received primarily during a one month period. Statistical analyses consisted of computer cross tabulations of the study variables.

Two-thirds of the complainants were from the private sector of the community while one-third were agency personnel. Private individuals usually knew of the complaint situation through first hand observation over a period of time. A vast majority of the relatives and one-fourth of the non-relatives who complained had cared for the children in the past. Although only one-fourth of the complainants actually suggested an investigation, three-fourths of the referrals were accepted for service and investigated.

It was found that all of the complaint situations could be classified as neglect, abuse, or inadequate supervision. Abuse situations were rated highly serious for the child(ren) involved while inadequate supervision situations were rated least serious. In half of the situations reported a breakdown in or a lack of a child care arrangement led to the complaint, usually of inadequate supervision.

The data suggested that a primary element of a successful complaint process is social confirmation and support, especially in situations of neglect which were the most difficult for complainants to evaluate. Motivations for complaints fell into three categories: concern for the child, self concern, and mixed concern. Child concern was most prevalent in situations determined to be highly serious. A universal characteristic was the complainant's need to legitimize the complaint through discrediting the parents involved-- "discrediting information" is defined as information which was negative and unrelated to the complaint situation. Strong evidence of discrediting information, however, was associated with neglect rather than with either abuse or inadequate supervision.

The evidence converged on a typology of the complaint process in which each different complaint situation involved a different profile of the complaint process. The essential element of a successful abuse complaint was a highly serious situation; for a successful neglect complaint it was the presentation of discrediting information; and for a complaint of inadequate supervision it was the lack of a child care arrangement. Knowledge of the complainant's early diagnosis and motivation for action is essential to the building of a system that will facilitate the reporting of neglect and abuse.


In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).


A group project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Social Work.

If you are the rightful copyright holder of this dissertation or thesis and wish to have it removed from the Open Access Collection, please submit a request to and include clear identification of the work, preferably with URL.

Persistent Identifier

Included in

Social Work Commons