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Screening and Assessment

Screening and Assessment Within Multiple Systems

Due to the particular developmental risks associated with young children's traumatic experiences, it is essential that vulnerable children be identified as early as possible after the trauma. Many community resources—including health systems, Early Intervention programs, child welfare agencies, Head Start, child care programs, and early education systems—play an important role in identifying children, and in linking them and their families with services.

Some of these systems now try to address possible traumatic experiences by including questions about specific traumas into their intake and/or assessment protocols. For example, both Head Start and Early Intervention intake protocols include questions about domestic violence in families. Other protocols may include targeted questions about accidents, loss of family members, and/or significant medical history. Most young children are seen at regular intervals by providers in the pediatric health care system, enabling repeated opportunities for identifying early childhood trauma. As such, medical providers can also play an important role in diminishing risks and in maximizing protective factors associated with young children's exposure to trauma. They can supply information to prevent accidents and can incorporate questions about stressful and traumatic experiences into their interviews with families.

Focus of Assessment for Young Children

Assessment of trauma in young children must focus on the presenting problem in the context of the child's overall development. This information can be gathered though interviews with the parents and significant caregivers in the child's life, observation of the parent/caregiver-child interaction, and standardized assessment tools. Clinical assessment should include review of the specifics of the traumatic experience including:

  • Reactions of the child and parents/caregivers
  • Changes in the child's behavior
  • Resources in the environment to stabilize the child and family
  • Quality of the child's primary attachment relationships
  • Ability of parents/caregivers to facilitate the child's healthy socioemotional, psychological, and cognitive development

When conducting an assessment of a young child, it is also important to assess developmental delays (e.g., gross/fine motor, speech/language, sensory processing), which may indicate that the child could benefit from evaluation and/or services from another professional (e.g., occupational therapist, speech/language therapist, physical therapist). It is often helpful to consult and to work collaboratively with these professionals.

Instruments for Assessing Traumatic Stress in Young Children

Below is a list of some of the standardized instruments used within the NCTSN to assess traumatic stress in young children.

  • Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL): Achenbach, and Rescorla (2001). Ages 1½–5
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Semi-Structured Interview and Observation Record: Scheeringa and Zeanah (1994). Ages 0–4
  • Posttraumatic Symptom Inventory for Children (PT-SIC): Eisen (1997). Ages 4–8
  • Preschool Age Psychiatric Assessment (PAPA): Egger and Angold (1999). Ages 2–5
  • PTSD Symptoms in Preschool Aged Children (PTSD-PAC): Levendosky, Huth-Bocks, Semel, and Shapiro (2002). Ages 3–5
  • Traumatic Events Screening Inventory-Parent Report Revised (TESI-PRR): Ghosh et al. (2002). Ages 0–6
  • Trauma Symptom Checklist for Young Children (TSCYC): Briere et al. (2001). Ages 3–12
  • Violence Exposure Scale for Children-Preschool Version (VEX-PV): Shahinfar, Fox, and Leavitt (2000). Ages 4–10
  • Violence Exposure Scale for Children-Revised Parent Report (VEX-RPR): Shahinfar, Fox, and Leavitt (2000). For parents of preschool-aged children aged 4–10