• Behaviour;
  • parent management training;
  • attribution;
  • expressed emotion;
  • maternal depression

Background:  The effectiveness of parent management training (PMT) as a treatment for child behaviour problems is reduced by high attrition rates. One difficulty with engaging mothers is that, by definition, PMT is directed at the parent, yet many parents believe the cause of the problem lies within the child. Hence the model of therapy offered contradicts their understanding about the cause and nature of the problem. Moreover, the emotional consequence of holding child-responsibility causal attributions is associated with high expressed emotion (EE), a known predictor of poor compliance with therapy in other child psychiatric disorders.

Methods:  Seventy-five consecutive referrals of mothers to a PMT programme were recruited. EE was assessed using the Camberwell Family Interview methodology. Spontaneous causal attributions about their child's problem behaviour were collected from the same interview material and independently coded using the Leeds Attributional Coding System. Attendance data at the PMT programme was collected following completion of programmes.

Results:  Contrary to expectations, mothers who made child-responsibility attributions and were highly critical about their child's behaviour were no more likely than non-blaming, low EE parents to drop out prematurely from a course of PMT. However, expressing an understanding of their own role in managing their child's behaviour was predictive of attendance. Two factors were, however, more closely associated with greater attrition: having been offered a clinical diagnosis and being from a lower socio-economic family.

Conclusions:  Socio-economic factors should be viewed as barriers to uptake of services and successful strategies for increasing engagement of families are likely to be economical rather than psychological. However, although the causal attributions mothers make about their child's behaviour did not predict whether they were likely to attend PMT, an exploratory analysis found evidence to suggest that successful engagement with PMT begins early in the referral process and that referring clinicians should ensure treatment options are aligned with diagnoses provided.