Do school teachers and primary contacts in residential youth care institutions recognize mental health problems in adolescents?

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Background: Studies show that adolescents living in residential youth care (RYC) institutions experience more mental health problems than others. This paper studies how well teachers and primary contacts in RYC institutions recognize adolescents' mental health problems as classified by The Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment diagnostic interviews (CAPA). Methods: All residents between 12 and 23 years of age living in RYC institutions in Norway and enrolled in school at the time of data collection were invited to participate in the study. Of the 601 available children, 400 participated in the study, namely 230 girls, mean age = 16.9 years, SD = 1.2 and 170 boys, mean age = 16.5 years, SD = 1.5. The Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and Teacher's Report Form (TRF) were used. The sensitivity and specificity of these instruments were studied. Results: We observed a significant gap between the mental health problems diagnosed by the CAPA interviews and the problems reported by primary contacts on the CBCL and by teachers on the TRF. The CBCL showed a higher sensitivity than the TRF, whereas the TRF showed a higher specificity than the CBCL. Both primary contacts and teachers classified externalizing problems fairly well such as ADHD in both genders and conduct disorder in girls. Both teachers and primary contacts, however, had more problems detecting internalizing problems. Teachers may have a tendency to view most students as healthy and to underestimate the severity of their problems, whereas primary contacts may tend to overestimate the number of problems and view adolescents as sicker than they really are. Conclusion: The Child Welfare System should revise their intake procedures to detect possible problems early on and to introduce the necessary treatment. It is important to identify factors that increase healthy school adaption in order for these adolescents to accomplish school in a proper way since education is important for a successful adult life.




Undheim, A. M., Lydersen, S., & Kayed, N. S. (2016). Do school teachers and primary contacts in residential youth care institutions recognize mental health problems in adolescents? Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 10(1).

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