Role of theory frameworks in research processes

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This paper examined the functional role of theoretical frameworks in research. The role of the theoretical framework was probed using the qualitative research paper titled “Early School Engagement and Late Elementary Outcomes for Maltreated Children in Foster Care.” The qualitative research article employed the attachment theory in foster care to examine the interaction between school engagement and the poor psychosocial outcomes of maltreated children in foster care. The research article concluded that the maltreatment of children in the foster care system contributed significantly to the children’s poor psychosocial outcomes; hence, early school engagements could be used to mitigate the late effects of the poor psychosocial outcomes (Fisher, Kim, Pears & Yoerger, 2013). Succeeding sections of this paper examined the selected article, and five other articles on the topic of foster care, to determine the functional significance of theoretical frameworks in research processes.

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General Importance of Theory in Research

Theories are important in setting the context for a research study (Courtney, Lee & Tajima, 2014). Technically, theories are educated frameworks of explaining and predicting phenomena in a particular field of study, which in this paper is the field of foster care. Theories are built from extensive scientific observations and experiments. The scientific observations and experiments are essential in understanding the cause-and-effect relationships in phenomena. For example, scientific observations determine inadequate parental attachment as the cause of poor psychosocial outcomes among children in foster care (McKenzie & Tucker, 2012). In this context, the scientific experiments generalized that the degree of parental attachment among children is influential in determining the late psychosocial profiles of the children. Thus, theories provide a general context or atmosphere under which research is to be conducted.

Besides providing the context of a study, theories are also important in providing directionality and reducing bias in the research problems. Research problems are often developed after identifying the gaps that exist in the previous literature (Michelle & Petrenko, 2017). After the gaps are identified, the researchers consult the relevant research theories to seek the general knowledge of the research topic. Gaining the general knowledge of the topic serves the purposes of limiting subjective construction of research questions and hypotheses. In particular, theories eliminate any preconceived perspectives harbored by the researchers; hence, limiting the propagation of biases throughout a research process. Therefore, theories help researchers construct research questions and select variables in the educated and scientifically-determined light of theoretical frameworks.

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On the other hand, research processes contribute to the development of theories by testing and validating the practical applicability of theoretical tenets. Theories are not perfect. Rather, theories evolve as more knowledge in a specific topic emerges. Theories merely predict a possible outcome of a phenomenon based on the educated prediction models constructed from previous scientific observations and experiments. However, not all the predictions from theories are correct. Some predictions and explanations of theoretical frameworks have been proven wrong by empirical studies. In this context, research processes contribute to the building process of theories by modifying the principles of theories that disagree with empirical findings. Overall, theories and research processes are interdependent.

Identification of the Theory in the Article

The selected article for this paper utilized the attachment theory in foster care. The attachment theory in the context of foster care precisely asserts that secure attachment to primary caregivers gives children psychosocial advantages (Courtney, Lee & Tajima, 2014). During the first years of infancy, children need comfort to relax and feel safe; hence, the primary caregivers must remain responsive and sensitive enough to provide the necessary comfort to boost secure attachment (McKenzie & Tucker, 2012). Developing a secure attachment during the first years of infancy is important in optimizing the behavioral, cognitive and emotional responses of children towards themselves and others.

In the presence of adequate attachment with primary caregivers particularly parents, children develop healthy feelings that foster their self-esteem and sustain productive relationships with other people in the child’s immediate environment. On the contrary, the absence of a secure attachment during infancy renders a child emotionally vulnerable; hence, the children with insecure attachment eventually develop feelings of anxiety towards others and experience difficulty regulating their behaviors and emotions (Michelle & Petrenko, 2017). In this context, the theory of attachment explains and informs the observed behavioral, cognitive and emotional outcomes of children from the foster care system.

Based on the research article under review, it emerged that maltreated children in foster care experienced insecure attachment towards their primary caregivers. The maltreated children in foster care came from dysfunctional families battling with social challenges ranging from substance abuse and domestic violence to crime and poverty (Fisher et al, 2013). As a result of the social challenges, the parents of the children in foster care often exercised hostility, rejection, and neglect towards their children. Consequent to the hostility and rejection from their parents, the children in foster care developed feelings of anxiety as the unavailability and the insensitivity of their primary caregivers could not enable the children to explore their immediate environment with curiosity and confidence.

The maltreated children with insecure attachment fail to develop a solid emotional foundation necessary for early and late school engagement. In particular, the absence of sensitivity and availability from the primary caregivers meant that the maltreated children could neither develop the emotions of empathy nor learn to manage shame and stress in a social environment (McKenzie & Tucker, 2012). Consequently, the maltreated children in foster would experience difficulties in managing their emotional, cognitive and behavioral responses in their school environment. In this regard, the attachment theory set the context and provided the direction for understanding the psychosocial responses of maltreated children in the various dimensions of school engagement.

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Using Attachment Theory to provide the Research Framework

Distinctively, the attachment theory informed the selection of the population for the research paper. The research article utilized 93 maltreated children in foster care as the experimental group and 54 non-maltreated children as the control group (Fisher et al, 2013). The attachment theory informed the research that the maltreated children in foster care were at a higher risk of poor psychosocial outcomes in the school environment compared to their non-maltreated peers. Therefore, the concepts of secure and insecure attachment informed the selection of the most appropriate population for the study.

Besides informing the selection of the population, the attachment theory also facilitated the selection of the research variables. In the article, the independent variable was the placement of maltreated children in foster care. Conversely, the dependent variable was the degree of school engagement among the children in foster care regarding psychosocial outcomes. The psychosocial outcomes in school engagement were examined as the academic competence of the children, the degree of risk behaviors among the children, and the emotional competency of the children in relating with their peers. The variables were selected based on the anticipation that the insecure attachment among the maltreated children in foster care would translate to poor academic performance and increased the tendency towards risky behaviors including drug abuse and deviant peer associations.

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How the Research Contribute to the Theory

The research involving the effects of insecure attachment on maltreated children in foster care on their psychosocial outcomes served to validate the principles of the attachment theory. The attachment theory predicted that secure attachment among children corresponded to high self-esteem, high impulse-control capacities, and quicker cognitive processes (Font, 2015). The research in the article tested whether there was a significant difference in the academic, emotional and behavioral outcomes of maltreated children in foster care and their non-maltreated peers in the general population.

The research concluded that the maltreated children in foster care not only received lower grades in school but also endorsed early substance abuse and exhibited antisocial behaviors towards their peers (Fisher et al, 2013). Technically, the findings of the research approved the predictive capacity of the attachment theory. The findings regarding the poor school engagements among the maltreated children in foster care ascertained that early adversity related to the attachment of infants to their primary caregivers played a direct role in shaping the later psychosocial outcomes of the children. Therefore, testing the variables in the research lent credibility to the attachment theory in foster care.

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Limitations and Strengths of Theory in Research

From an evaluative perspective, the attachment theory in foster care was crucial in narrowing down the study of the psychosocial outcomes of maltreated children. Among the strengths of the research article include the selection of precise variables and the correct choice of the most relevant population for the study. Practically, the behavioral, cognitive and emotional dimensions of school engagement are the most precise variables in determining the psychosocial profiles of both the maltreated and the non-maltreated children in the school environment (Fisher et al, 2013). On the other hand, there is no more relevant setting to find maltreated children than within the foster care system. Thus, the attachment theory enhanced the reliability of the research’s framework.

Contrarily, the attachment theory in foster care failed to acknowledge the alternative causes of poor psychosocial outcomes of children in school. At this juncture, it is ascertainable that the maltreatment of children contributes substantially to behavioral, emotional and cognitive inadequacies later in life. However, it is highly probable that the poor psychosocial outcomes among the maltreated children in foster care were attributable to other alternative causes including but not limited to genetic predisposition and socio-cultural backgrounds.  In this context, the theoretical framework constrained the operational scope of the research; hence, limiting the validity of the findings.

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In conclusion, it is evident that theories and research processes complement each other. Theories serve the purpose of setting the context and providing directionality to a research exercise. On the contrary, research exercises serve the purpose of testing and improving the accuracy of a theoretical framework. In providing the context and directionality of research, the attachment theory in foster care was instrumental in pinpointing the population of the study and in selecting the appropriate variable for the research. Despite the vital role of theories in research, theories tend to limit the scope of a research process by offering predetermined boundaries of research problems.

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  1. Courtney, M., Lee, J & Tajima, E. (2014). Health and well-being of children adopted from foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 40(7), 29-40
  2. Fisher, P., Kim, H., Pears, K & Yoerger, K. (2013). Early School Engagement and Late Elementary Outcomes for Maltreated Children in Foster Care. Journal of Developmental Psychology, 49(12), 2201-2211
  3. Font, S. (2015). Is higher placement stability in kinship foster care by virtue or design? Journal of Child Abuse & Neglect, 42(3), 99-111
  4. Lang, K et al. (2016). Foster children’s attachment security in the first year after placement: A longitudinal study of predictors. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36(2), 269-280
  5. McKenzie, M & Tucker, D. (2012). Attachment theory and change processes in foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(11), 2208-2219
  6. Michelle, A & Petrenko, C. (2017). Fostering secure attachment in low and middle-income countries: Suggestions for evidence-based interventions. Journal of Evaluation and Program Planning, 60(4), 151-165
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