Objectives: To estimate the prevalence of positive screens for social-emotional problems among preschool-aged children in a low-income clinical population and to explore the family context and receptivity to referrals to help guide development of interventions.
Design: Observational, cross-sectional study.
Setting: Two urban primary care clinics.
Participants: A total of 254 parents of 3- and 4-year-old children at 2 urban primary care clinics.
Main outcome measures: Score on a standardized screen for social-emotional problems (Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social-Emotional) and answers to additional survey questions about child care arrangements, parental depressive symptoms, and attitudes toward preschool and behavioral health referrals.
Results: Twenty-four percent (95% CI, 16.5%-31.5%) of children screened positive for social-emotional problems. Among those screening positive, 45% had a parent with depressive symptoms, and 27% had no nonparental child care. Among parents of children who screened positive for social-emotional problems, 79% reported they would welcome or would not mind a referral to a counselor or psychologist; only 16% reported a prior referral.
Conclusions: In a clinical sample, 1 in 4 low-income preschool-aged children screened positive for social-emotional problems, and most parents were amenable to referrals to preschool or early childhood mental health. This represents an opportunity for improvement in primary prevention and early intervention for social-emotional problems.