Persistence of Mental Health Problems in Very Young Children Investigated by US Child Welfare Agencies



      To document the persistence and predictors of mental health problems in children aged 12 to 18 months investigated for alleged maltreatment.


      Data came from the second National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being (NSCAW II), a longitudinal study of youth 0 to 17.5 years referred to US child welfare agencies. These analyses involved children 12 to 18 months. Baseline sociodemographic, social services, developmental data, and health data were collected on children and caregivers. Potential social-emotional problems at baseline were assessed with the Brief Infant–Toddler Social and Emotional (BITSEA) scales. Outcomes were scores over the clinical cutoff on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) 1.5–5 assessed at 18 months after study entry.


      The multivariable analyses showed that an elevated BITSEA score at baseline (odds ratio 9.18, 95% confidence interval 1.49, 56.64; P = .018) and living with a depressed caregiver (odds ratio 13.54, 95% confidence interval 2.50, 73.46; P = .003) were associated with CBCL scores in the clinical range at the 18-month follow-up. For children who scored both positive on the BITSEA and lived with a depressed caregiver, 62.5% scored positive on the CBCL compared to 10.7% of the children with one risk factor and 3.8% of the children with neither risk factor. Only 23.9% of children and/or their caregivers received any service.


      Data show considerable persistence of mental health problems in very young children that 2 factors could identify. Lack of services to these children is a tremendous missed opportunity for identification and treatment that could potentially prevent more serious mental health problems.


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