Background: Despite the availability of effective screening measures, primary care physicians fail to identify and manage many children with psychosocial problems. Physicians often have information about significant negative events in a child's life. The present study evaluated the potential utility of using information about negative life events to facilitate physician identification of children with psychosocial problems.
Methods: Negative life events, maternal distress and child psychosocial functioning measures were completed by 185 mothers of children, aged 4-12 years. Family physicians provided data about the children's psychosocial functioning.
Results: Mothers identified 15.1% (n = 28) of the children as having psychosocial problems. Physicians correctly identified 21% (n = 6) of these at-risk children. Physician use of negative life events would have led to the identification of 39.2% (n = 11) at-risk children. Information about maternal distress and negative life events would have resulted in an additional 18% (n = 5) of children identified by the physicians. Information about maternal distress alone would have resulted in an identification rate of 53.5% (n = 15).
Conclusions: Using information about negative events in a child's life, physicians could improve their rate of identification of children with psychosocial problems. Children who have had more than two negative events in their lives are at increased risk for psychosocial problems.