Assessment of Parent and Child Psychopathology in Child Mental Health Services

Services for children may benefit from assessing the children’s parents in order to identify parental problems relevant to helping the children. This is because parents and children may have similar problems, parents’ problems may affect children’s functioning or complicate treatment of the children, children’s problems may affect parental functioning, and parents may need treatment in order to help their children. Vidair et al. (2011) studied relations between assessment of parents’ self-reported depression, anxiety, and somatization with the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) and the functioning of 848 6-17-year-olds referred to an outpatient psychiatric service in New York City. The children were assessed with the CBCL/6-18, diagnostic interviews with the children and their parents, and the Children’s Global Assessment Scale (CGAS), a 100-point scale on which clinicians rate children’s functioning. High problem scores on BSIs completed by mothers were significantly associated with children’s CGAS scores and CBCL scores indicative of poor functioning, as well as with children’s diagnoses of depression, anxiety, and oppositional and conduct disorders, but not with diagnoses of ADHD. High problem scores on BSIs completed by fathers showed similar but not statistically significant associations with their children’s problems. As Vidair et al. acknowledged, the BSI’s failure to assess parental attention and other problems may have prevented the study from detecting associations with ADHD and other disorders in the children. However, the authors concluded that “There is a great need to develop mental health systems that will be able to provide assessments and deliver evidence-based treatments to children, mothers, and fathers within the same clinical setting” (p. 449).

Reference: Vidair, H.B., Reyes, J.A., Shen, S., Parrilla-Escobar, M.A., Heleniak, C.M., et al. (2011). Screening parents during child evaluations: Exploring parent and child psychopathology in the same clinic. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 50, 441-450.