Use of a brief standardized screening instrument in a primary care setting to enhance detection of social-emotional problems among youth in foster care

Acad Pediatr. 2011 Sep-Oct;11(5):409-13. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2011.03.001. Epub 2011 Jun 17.


Objective: To determine whether systematic use of a validated social-emotional screening instrument in a primary care setting is feasible and improves detection of social-emotional problems among youth in foster care.

Methods: Before-and-after study design, following a practice intervention to screen all youth in foster care for psychosocial problems using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), a validated instrument with 5 subdomains. After implementation of systematic screening, youth aged 11 to 17 years and their foster parents completed the SDQ at routine health maintenance visits. We assessed feasibility of screening by measuring the completion rates of SDQ by youth and foster parents. We compared the detection of psychosocial problems during a 2-year period before systematic screening to the detection after implementation of systematic screening with the SDQ. We used chart reviews to assess detection at baseline and after implementing systematic screening.

Results: Altogether, 92% of 212 youth with routine visits that occurred after initiation of screening had a completed SDQ in the medical record, demonstrating high feasibility of systematic screening. Detection of a potential mental health problem was higher in the screening period than baseline period for the entire population (54% vs 27%, P < .001). More than one-fourth of youth had 2 or more significant social-emotional problem domains on the SDQ.

Conclusions: Systematic screening for potential social-emotional problems among youth in foster care was feasible within a primary care setting and doubled the detection rate of potential psychosocial problems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Orphaned / psychology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Foster Home Care*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening*
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Primary Health Care*