Child Welfare Investigation Predicts Mental Health Problems in Young Children

Reports new study in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Washington D.C., June 19, 2012 – A study published in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that young children who have been investigated for maltreatment by child welfare agencies have a higher prevalence of mental health problems and that very few receive treatment for those problems.

Using data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being II (NSCAW II), a group of researchers led by Dr. Sarah McCue Horwitz, of Stanford University, examined 1117 children ages 12-36 months to document the frequency and possible predictors of mental health problems and also the likelihood that the children or their families received services for the problems. The children were divided into two groups, ages 12-18 months and ages 19-36 months, and evaluated using the Brief Infant-Toddler Social Emotional Assessment (BITSEA) and the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), respectively.

The study found that approximately 35% of 12 to 18 month olds scored high on the BITSEA Problem Scale and 21% had low social competence whereas 10% of the 19-36-month-olds scored in the clinical range on the CBCL. The children overall showed high rates of chronic health problems and many had prior child welfare history, which was shown to be related to low social competence.

Although early intervention has been shown in other studies to help children with mental health issues, only 19.2% of children with mental health problems were shown to have received services directly or via parenting skills training for their caregiver.

The NSCAW II is a longitudinal nationally-representative sample of children ages 0 to 17.5 years whose child welfare investigations closed between February 2008 and April 2009.

Horwitz said of the study, “The fact that so many very young children in contact with child welfare are showing signs of social and emotional problems is somewhat surprising, but that so few children and caregivers receive any services is disturbing given that effective interventions are available and could produce positive changes in the lives of these children.”

In a related editorial, Dr. Gail Edelsohn addresses ethical challenges related to research and data acquisition that are highlighted by this study and the NSCAW II, such as informed consent, confidentiality, and beneficence and justice.

The article “Mental Health Problems in Young Children Investigated by U.S. Child Welfare Agencies” by Sarah McCue Horwitz, Michael S. Hurlburt, Amy Heneghan, Jinjin Zhang, Jennifer Rolls-Reutz, Emily Fisher, John Landsverk, Ruth E.K. Stein, (DOI: 10.1016/j.jaac.2012.03.006) appears in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 51, Issue 6 (June 2012), published by Elsevier. Dr. Edelsohn’s related editorial, “Ethics and Research With Vulnerable Children,” appears in the same issue.

This study was supported by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) award P30-MH074678.


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Notes for editors
Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Mary Billingsley at +1 202 966 7300 x105 or mbillingsley@jaacap.org. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Sarah McCue Horwitz at sarah.horwitz@stanford.edu.

All articles published in JAACAP are embargoed until 3PM ET of the day they are published as corrected proofs online. Articles cannot be publicized as accepted abstracts. Contents of the publication should not be released to or by the media or government agencies before this date.

 

About JAACAP
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) is the official publication of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. JAACAP is the leading journal focusing exclusively on today's psychiatric research and treatment of the child and adolescent. Published twelve times per year, each issue is committed to its mission of advancing the science of pediatric mental health and promoting the care of youth and their families.

The journal's purpose is to advance research, clinical practice, and theory in child and adolescent psychiatry. It is interested in manuscripts from diverse viewpoints, including genetic, epidemiological, neurobiological, cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, social, cultural, and economic. Studies of diagnostic reliability and validity, psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological treatment efficacy, and mental health services effectiveness are encouraged. The journal also seeks to promote the well-being of children and families by publishing scholarly papers on such subjects as health policy, legislation, advocacy, culture and society, and service provision as they pertain to the mental health of children and families.

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Media contact
Mary Billingsley
JAACAP Editorial Office
+1 202 966 7300 x105
mbillingsley@jaacap.org