Youths in foster care have psychological strengths, as well as difficulties. With limited mental health resources, screening practices need to identify at-risk youth who most likely would benefit from services.
Using a primary-care practice that cared for all foster youths in one New York county, researchers had youths (aged 11 to 17) and their foster parents complete a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) during well-child visits. The researchers wanted to determine whether a primary-care provider could reliably elicit accurate information on a youth’s social–emotional status.
The SDQ 25-item questionnaire can be administered in five minutes and covers five domains:
The researchers categorized clinically significant problems according to whether they were reported by youth only, parent only or both. Parents were more likely than youth to report conduct problems, hyperactivity/inattention and social-emotional problems.
Researchers compared the SDQ scores with assessment results from a Children’s Interview for Psychiatric Syndromes (ChIPS), an extensive structured interview by trained clinicians. The SDQ sensitivity for detecting youth with significant mental health issues was lowest for youth data alone (54%), higher for parent data alone (71%) and highest (93%) for combined data.