Families who begin versus decline therapy for children who are sexually abused

Tonya Lippert, Tricia Favre, Cindy Alexander, Theodore P. Cross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To identify child characteristics, factors related to the therapy referral, and caregivers' psychological and social variables that predict sexually abused children's beginning therapy following a therapy referral. Method: Investigators abstracted data from case records of 101 families whose children were referred to a Children's Advocacy Center for therapy because of sexual abuse. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with a subsample of 45 caregivers 2-3 months after the referral to therapy. Case record and interview variables were entered into bivariate and multiple variable logistic regression analyses to identify predictors of entry into therapy. Results: Only 54% of children had started therapy by 2 months post referral. The odds of entry into therapy were 2.10 times greater for non-Black versus Black children and, contrary to what would be expected, 13.90 times greater for children whose mother figures were accused of neglectful supervision. Among those interviewed (n = 45), caregivers who initiated child therapy more often saw therapy as giving emotional help and reported that they themselves felt comfortable making disclosures to a therapist. They also differed with respect to the activities they liked to do with their children. Conclusions: Many children who experience sexual abuse and are referred to therapy never begin it. Black children are overrepresented among these. In-depth interviews may reveal more subtle differences between families initiating and declining therapy than case records. Practice implications: High rates of non-initiation of psychotherapy for sexually abused children indicate the need to identify how these rates could be reduced. To this end, the present study suggests the usefulness of focusing attention on engagement of Black families and on proactive involvement with caregivers identified as potentially unsupportive of their children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)859-868
Number of pages10
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • Decline of therapy
  • Initiation of therapy
  • Therapy referral

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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