Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Social Work


Social Work

First Advisor

Dr. Justin "Jay" Miller


Background. Attorneys who represent parents and children in dependency, neglect, and abuse (DNA) proceedings are key in influencing the outcomes of the cases they carry. These influences include the length of time a child spends in the custody of the state or the necessity for foster care, visitation with family members, length of time to reunification, and recommended services for the child and parents (Courtney & Hook, 2012; Goldman, 1993; Thornton & Gwin, 2012; Zinn & Peters, 2015). The American Bar Association’s analysis is that there are “four constants: high caseloads, low compensation, inadequate training, and lack of supervision” (Booth et al, 2019). Current literature doesn’t provide insight on the issues related to the recruitment or retention of quality attorneys in this field. Motivation plays significant roles in choosing to engage in the field and in job performance (Van Iddekinge et al., 2018). This study will delineate a conceptual framework for factors which motivate attorneys and provide a conceptual domain for differences in conceptualization based on recruitment and retention.

Method. The exploratory study employed a participatory, mixed-methods research approach, called Group Concept Mapping (CM), to conceptualize the motivators that drive a sample of attorneys in Kentucky to the work of representing children and parents in dependency, neglect, and abuse proceedings. CM analyses combined multi-dimensional scaling (MDS) with hierarchical cluster analysis to form factors related to an area of analysis. This process actively engaged attorneys in data collection, construction, and interpretation through Group Concept Mapping to conceptualize a framework for motivation.

Results. Data were analyzed using Concept Systems™, a proprietary software developed for CM. Results indicate that attorneys who represent parents and children in the child welfare system conceptualize motivation based on eight distinct clusters: Advocacy, Justice, Autonomy, Mastery, Support Environment, Achievement, Intrinsic Motivations, and Prosocial Motivations. Based on the rating analysis, attorneys rated the importance of those factors for recruitment and retention within close ranges (> .20), except for the Autonomy and Achievement clusters. Autonomy and Achievement demonstrated a higher priority for the clusters at recruitment than retention.

Conclusion. This research study sought to analyze and develop a conceptual model relating to motivators for attorneys employed as representation for children and parents in child abuse cases. The study revealed that attorneys conceptualized motivation with eight distinct ideas: Advocacy, Justice, Autonomy, Mastery, Support environment, Achievement, Intrinsic motivations, and Prosocial motivations. The Autonomy and Prosocial motivation clusters were identified by participants as most actionable, which speaks to the importance of accommodating an individual’s ability to control their time, task, technique, and promote the well-being of others. The findings provide insight on potential recruitment and retention strategies for attorneys serving parents and children. Policymakers, court program administrators, and researchers are urged to consider this conceptualization as decisions related to attorney workplace context, support, and practice expectations are made.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)