Engaging Families in The Assessment Process

Trauma-Informed Screening & Assessment

Following are practical ideas that clinicians can use to engage families in the assessment process (adapted from www.taptraining.net). Of course, clinicians will facilitate child and family engagement in the process by addressing their concerns, answering their questions, validating their observations, and demystifying the process:
Administering Measures
Describe for caregivers (and youth as appropriate), the purpose and importance of the assessment process and various tools used to gather information across areas of functioning, given children’s range of reactions to trauma.

  • Make time in the therapy session to complete measures with caregivers/family members by putting it on the session agenda and explaining to caregivers how the measures can aid the treatment process and support the development of treatment goals and plans.
  • Allow the parent and child to choose the language in which they will complete the measures.
  • Describe the measures as a way you gather information on child and family functioning in order to help them as much as possible, not just more paperwork to complete.
  • Use developmentally appropriate strategies when completing measures with youth, including the following:
    • Have a dry erase board/chalk board, as an alternative to pencil/paper, for marking answers
    • Let them decide the order in which they complete measures, if/when possible
    • Select a fun pen or pencil to use when marking items
    • Use visuals to clarify constructs such as frequency (e.g., calendar)
    • If the child opposes doing the measures, read aloud the items to him or her. This interviewing will allow you to collect additional “data,” such as affective and physiological responses (Is he nervous completing the measure? Is she indecisive in responding? Does he fully understand the question?)
    • For youth, ask follow-up questions to probe more deeply after you have completed the measure.
  • Offer to complete the assessment over 1-3 sessions and give the child and caregiver some choice in this (e.g., complete all today or one today and one next week?).
  • Praise all children (and parents) for their “hard work” and patience completing questions.
  • Check the endorsement of critical items (e.g., hurting oneself) and develop a safety plan.
  • Take time to explain what will happen next (i.e., how the measures will be scored and how you will review the results with the youth and caregiver).
  • Clarify that you will re-administer the measures on an ongoing basis, share the results, and use those results as you develop and monitor the treatment plan.

Providing Feedback

  • Review the purpose of the measures with the child and caregiver.
  • When applicable, explain that the measures provide information on how the child is doing related to other children.
  • Highlight the strengths the child exhibits, whether indicated by a measure or domain related to resiliency, or strengths revealed as they were NOT identified as problematic (i.e., doing well in school). Explain to family members how you will integrate these strengths into the treatment plan to support recovery from trauma.
  • Assess the child and caregiver’s level of interest in the feedback to decide; you may want to provide more or less detailed information and assessment data.
  • Consider drawing diagrams or pictures to explain results on some measures (e.g., using bar graphs to indicate progress).
  • Highlight areas where the caregiver and child were consistent in their report on the measures (i.e., both agree the youth client is experiencing problems in school). If they are very consistent, this is a potential strength, indicating that they are “on the same page.”
  • Highlight discrepancies between the child and caregiver report; explain that this suggests child and caregiver experience the same symptom very differently.
  • Ask the caregiver and child if the results are consistent with their experiences (Does this seem accurate? Does it provide any new information? If they disagree, why?). This helps reconcile differences between caregiver and youth responses or varying responses on different measures.
  • Share initial assessment results and use this information to engage in collaborative treatment planning with caregivers and youth as appropriate. Summarize the findings, noting two or three main points. 
  • Use the feedback process to provide psychoeducation about trauma reactions with the child and caregivers (e.g., noting common responses to trauma or areas of need that are related to each other) and tie this information to the treatment selected (e.g., “This treatment can help reduce those physical reactions and improve your sleep.”).
  • Remind the caregiver and child that you will re-administer the measures in the future, and that the results will show the progress of therapy, the areas where you may want to continue work, and how helpful the treatment has been for the child and family.