Physicians' attention to parents' concerns about the psychosocial functioning of their children

Arch Fam Med. Sep-Oct 1999;8(5):440-4. doi: 10.1001/archfami.8.5.440.


Background: Epidemiological data indicate that approximately 20% of children have psychosocial problems, yet less than 2% of children are seen by mental health specialists each year. Primary care physicians tend to identify children with psychosocial problems when parents discuss concerns with them.

Objective: To examine factors related to physicians' attention to parental disclosures.

Design: Parents reported the psychosocial functioning of themselves and their children. Physicians reported the psychosocial functioning of 75 children and whether the parent disclosed psychosocial concerns to them.

Setting: Ambulatory care clinic of a community-based, university-affiliated, residency training program.

Participants: Seventy-five parents of children aged 2 to 16 years who presented for routine primary care, and 26 physicians.

Main outcome measures: Beck Depression Inventory (parental distress), Eyberg Child Behavior Inventory (child behavior problems), physician and parent report.

Results: Physicians identified 50.0% of children with clinically significant behavior problems. Logistic regression indicated that parental disclosure was the only significant predictor of physician identification (P < .002). When children had clinically significant behavior problems, physicians were more likely to report disclosures by parents (45.0% vs 5.7% for parents of children with and without behavior problems, respectively). Physicians were more likely to report parental disclosure when parents reported personal psychosocial distress (38.9% for distressed vs 5.7% nondistressed parents).

Conclusions: Parental disclosure of concerns was a better predictor of physician identification of child psychosocial problems than was the presence of child behavior problems. Physicians responded more frequently to the disclosures of potential problems by parents of children with clinically significant psychosocial problems. They also attended more frequently to disclosures about behavior problems when the parent was also experiencing psychosocial distress.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Parents*
  • Physicians*
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Social Adjustment*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires