Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.
Screening for childhood mental health problems: outcomes and early identification
Article first published online: 21 APR 2009
© 2009 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2009 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Volume 50, Issue 5, pages 562–570, May 2009
How to Cite
Essex, M. J., Kraemer, H. C., Slattery, M. J., Burk, L. R., Thomas Boyce, W., Woodward, H. R. and Kupfer, D. J. (2009), Screening for childhood mental health problems: outcomes and early identification. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50: 562–570. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.02015.x
- Issue published online: 21 APR 2009
- Article first published online: 21 APR 2009
- Manuscript accepted 15 August 2008
- Universal screening;
- mental health problems;
Background: Many childhood psychiatric problems are transient. Consequently, screening procedures to accurately identify children with problems unlikely to remit and thus, in need of intervention, are of major public health concern. This study aimed to develop a universal school-based screening procedure based on the answers to three questions: (1) What are the broad patterns of mental health problems from kindergarten to grade 5? (2) What are the grade 5 outcomes of these patterns? (3) How early in school can children likely to develop the most impairing patterns be identified accurately?
Methods: Mothers and teachers reported on a community sample (N = 328) of children’s internalizing and externalizing symptoms in kindergarten and grades 1, 3, and 5. In grade 5, teachers reported on children’s school-based functional impairments, physical health problems, and service use; mothers reported on children’s specialty mental health care.
Results: Four patterns distinguished children who (1) never evidenced symptoms; (2) evidenced only isolated symptoms; or evidenced recurrent symptoms, either (3) without or (4) with comorbid internalizing and externalizing. By grade 5, children with recurrent comorbid symptoms had the greatest impairments, physical health problems, and service use. These children can be identified quite accurately by grade 1.
Conclusions: Universal screening at school entry can effectively identify children likely to develop recurrent comorbid symptoms, and would provide a basis for developing optimal targeted intervention programs.