Mentalization in children and mothers in the context of trauma: An initial study of the validity of the Child Reflective Functioning Scale

Br J Dev Psychol. 2015 Jun;33(2):203-17. doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12074. Epub 2014 Dec 8.


This study examined the validity of the Child Reflective Functioning Scale (CRFS: Ensink, Target, & Oandason, 2013, Child reflective functioning scale scoring manual: for application to the Child Attachment Interview. London, UK: Anna Freud Centre - University College London), a measure designed to assess reflective functioning (RF) or mentalization during middle childhood. Participants were 94 mother-child dyads divided into two subgroups; 46 dyads where children had histories of intrafamilial (n = 22 dyads) or extrafamilial (n = 24 dyads) sexual abuse, and a community control group composed of 48 mother-child dyads. RF of children and their mothers was assessed using videotaped and transcribed data gathered using the Child Attachment Interview and the Parent Development Interview (PDI: Slade, Aber, Bresi, Berger, & Kaplan, 2004, The parent development interview-Revised. New York, NY: The City University of New York). The findings indicate that the CRFS proved reliable, with excellent intraclass correlation coefficients for general RF, as well as RF regarding self and others. Significant differences in RF were found between sexually abused children and the control group, and also between children who had experienced intrafamilial and extrafamilial sexual abuse. This provides support for the discriminant validity of the CRFS. Furthermore, maternal RF was associated with child RF. Both abuse and maternal RF made significant contributions to predicting children's RF regarding themselves, but child sexual abuse was the only variable that made a significant contribution to explaining variance in children's RF regarding others.

Keywords: children; mentalization; reflective functioning; trauma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Family / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Object Attachment*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / standards*
  • Psychometrics / instrumentation*
  • Self Concept*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*