Universal emotional and behavioral screening for children and adolescents
VanDeventer, Meghan Christine
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Emotional and behavioral adjustment is undeniably intertwined with children’s general physical health, academic achievement, and adaptation throughout their lives. Furthermore, child emotional and behavioral disorders tend to persist into adulthood. Early identification and intervention of youth with emotional and behavioral problems can help to minimize the long-term detrimental effects of mental disorders. Unfortunately, our current mental health care system is not succeeding in identifying those children in need of services. Universal emotional and behavioral screening is an efficient way to assess all children and identify those children at-risk for specific emotional and behavioral problems, allowing clinicians to act early so as to reduce risk, prevent the onset, or minimize the effects of a disorder. Researchers have called for a multiple gate screening procedure which begins by screening an entire population for emotional and behavioral difficulties. Those children identified by the screening instrument as at-risk for emotional and behavioral problems are then assessed again using a different, often more thorough, assessment tool such as a full behavior rating scale in order to increase accuracy of identification. When developing such a procedure, one must evaluate the utility of multiple gates as well as which informants should constitute each gate. The current study assessed the known-groups validity of newly developed BASC-2 screeners as well as examined the issues of gates and informants when implementing a universal screening procedure. The BASC-2 screeners appear to be promising as first gate screening measures. Additionally, parents were found to do a better job than teachers as first gate screener informants. Adding a comprehensive behavior rating scale as a second gate significantly improved classification accuracy and utilizing a different informant at the second gate appeared to improve classification accuracy further. Lastly, when implementing a two informant, two gate screening procedure, a screener is a valid option as the second gate in place of a longer behavior rating scale such as the full BASC-2. More research must still be done in order to ensure that sound science guides the increasingly popular practice of screening children for behavioral and emotional problems.