About b.e.s.t. (Behavioral Emotional Social Traits)
Presentation of Mental Health Issues
One of the largest controversies historically in the field of mental health has been the problem of identification of social-emotional problems in school-age children and how to prevent them from occurring (Caplan, 1970). There is little congruence between how mental health specialists and educational professionals see behavior and as a result, a wide variety of labels, with inconsistent diagnosis have been used to describe inappropriate behavior (Leavitt, 1971; Patterson, Cobb & Ray, 1973; Peterson, 19611).
Risk Factors for Early Identification
If risk factors can be differentiated and quantified, the effects of the intervention and subsequently the prevention of difficulties, at least theoretically, can be maximized. Matching individual needs to different intervention strategies, evaluating the response to these interventions and gradually building up a set of prescriptive treatments should result in positive developmental changes (Barclay, 19832). Skill competencies for staff could be increased, training provided to help develop replacement strategies, general school and specific classroom environments modified to reduce or counteract harmful circumstances and support systems for families could be developed more fully by practitioners.
No Single Behavior Marker
Sameroff and Seifer (19903) conclude that there is no single factor, whether considered as a risk or protective, that can account for a child’s emotional or behavioral adjustment. The presence of a single behavioral marker may, nevertheless, be important in the context of the school, depending on frequency or intensity of the behavior in question. A primary challenge is to identify and target risk and protective factors that have the greatest impact on promoting positive outcomes and prevent negative outcomes (Nash & Bowen, 20024).
A Prevention Model
Although behavior problems often begin prior to children entering kindergarten (Campbell, 19955; Campbell & Ewing, 19896), the early onset of behavior problems appears to remain stable over time and can, therefore, influence future success (Campbell & Ewing, 19897; Stormont, 20028). A prevention model should (1) target all children to help promote healthy development; (2) target “high risk” children and to stop, to reduce or change inappropriate behavior; and (3) target troubled children to rehabilitate, to reconstruct while focusing on teaching replacement behavior. The measurement technology chosen must become an integral part of the instruction, designed to make a difference in the lives of children and not just a prediction about their lives (Reynolds & Sunberg, 19769; Nelson, 197110).
What must a screening Protocol Do?
A psychometric protocol for assessment drives intervention and must differentiate a wide range of behavior, adjusting and distinguishing between developmental or situational problems. The protocol used must provide a systematic method to validly quantify children’s behavior on a dimension or standard of comparability on a reliable and valid basis.
Goal of Screening
The primary purpose for screening of emotional, behavioral and social issues would be to identify children who may, by reason of personal/social problems, have limited capabilities of functioning in the classroom and, as a result, these deficiencies could lead to diminished learning (Barclay, 1983) interfering with a student’s ability to acquire skills necessary for academic and behavioral growth (Lane, 200711). The universal nature of screening should allow children to be classified dimensionally to determine if school problems are present in relationship to a scale as well as normative behavior (Biglan, Mrazek, Carnine & Flay, 200312). Reasonable adaptations could then be identified to prevent problem behavior from occurring, new skills could be taught to replace the problem behavior. These new skills could be reinforced differentially, intervention strategies would be targeted to prevent problems, appropriately manage impeding behavior, and normalize behavior while replacing inappropriate behavior with a functional equivalent.