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Cricital Commentary on this work

Posted by anovagrrl on December 19, 2003 at 08:18:24

In Reply to: Re: Can you copy & paste & post it here? posted by susie on December 18, 2003 at 20:39:52:

Critical Commentary on Psychological Assessment of Children in The Family (1996; Lawrence Lilliston & Gary Shepherd)
Published at

By Carol C. Buening, PhD, LISW

When The Family/Children of God contracted with Lawrence Lilliston and Gary Shepherd sometime prior to 1994 to evaluate the psychological outcomes of its childrearing practices, the purpose of the client’s desire for such a program evaluation was to address international allegations of child maltreatment within the organization.

Lilliston & Shepherd’s methodology and their contractual status with The Family squarely place their work in the realm of program evaluation, and it is a misrepresentation to present it as research. Their study cannot be construed as research, as it does not use a sampling and analytic design that would support any generalization about the 32 children surveyed through participant observation at two Family homes.

Furthermore, because the evaluation was commissioned by an organization that wanted to demonstrate benign outcomes in its childrearing practices, results of Lilliston and Shepherd’s work must be closely examined for valid measurement of abuse indicators.

Despite the inherent limitations of program evaluation, Lilliston & Shepherd conclude that because their subjects come from international backgrounds, "the findings regarding these young people are quite probably reflective of child rearing and educational practices found generally in Family homes." The evaluators’ methodology does not support publication of such a conclusion.

It is bad social science to make a generalization based on the untested assumption that a sample is representative of its population. There is substantial evidence from former membership and official publications that The Family has a bifurcated distribution of child-rearing environments, i.e., there are field homes made up of the rank and file and "world service" homes made up of a leadership cadre. There is a significant body of evidence that children in these "world service" homes—or any home where top leadership was present for any length of time--grew up in sexualized environments where overt forms of sexual abuse did occur. Lilliston & Shepherd even acknowledge objective evidence of such sexual abuse in their paper, yet fail to account for the possibility that sexualized children have been purposely omitted from their sample of 32 participants.

More extensive documentation of sexual abuse and the presence of a bifurcated distribution in The Family’s child-rearing environments can be found in the Oct. 19, 1995, Judgment of Lord Justice Ward of The United Kingdom. Since the authors republished this study on the Psychology of Religion website in 1996, their failure to report significant evidence of a bifurcated distribution is either careless scholarship or a purposeful and unethical omission of relevant information.

The only subject in the study specifically identified as coming from a "world service" home is "David." Did “David” or his biological parents sign an informed consent and release of information for the authors to publish the conclusions of Lilliston's clinical assessment of him as an identified subject? While minors are not empowered by law to provide informed consent and releases of information, the common rules of consent governing ethical use of human subjects do require informed assent from minors.

Information regarding informed assent may be deemed unnecessary for the particular publication; however, given the disempowering nature of child maltreatment and the possibility that minors in The Family were coerced to participate in this evaluation, the work calls for a high standard of ethics. Did the Internal Review Boards at either Lilliston or Shepherd’s academic institutions review a study proposal prior to its implementation?

Exactly what instrumentation did Lilliston use to do his assessment of David? Did he use tools specifically designed to measure the clinical sequelae of sexual exploitation, or did he use more general measures of child and adolescent psychological functioning? Was the psychological assessment based solely on Lilliston’s clinical expertise? If so, what is the basis of that expertise? Is he a licensed clinical practitioner with expert training in the assessment of child sexual abuse? It is both careless and suspect for a clinical practitioner to publish conclusions of a psychological assessment without documenting the assessment tools used in the clinical examination.

Lilliston & Shepherd’s work is currently used by The Family to “prove” that their childrearing practices and the sexualized environment in which a generation was raised had no deleterious effects. Given the serious nature of child sexual abuse, an ethical researcher or competent clinical practitioner asked to evaluate 32 children in the early 1990s would stay attuned to subsequent information that might call the limited conclusions of a program evaluation into question. Given the currently emerging evidence from survivors (some of whom claim to have participated in the study) that child sexual abuse did occur on a widespread basis in The Family during the 1980s, it behooves Lilliston & Shephred to remove this work from publication and provide a statement regarding the limitations of their study.