Evidence-based assessment/Step 5: Gather collateral, cross-informant perspectives

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Prediction: Gather Collateral (Cross-Informant) Perspectives




When working with children it is usually the parent who buys the ticket for the therapeutic journey – the parent initiates the referral, schedules the appointment, transports the child, and decides whether to continue with treatment. Authorities agree that routinely gathering data from multiple informants is important to understand the context of the child’s behavior[1]. However, the agreement between perspectives is only moderate, with meta-analyses and cross-national studies finding correlations of .2 to .3 between parent, teacher, and youth report on the same measures[2][3][4] and .4 between adults and a collateral about internalizing or externalizing problems, rising to .68 for substance use[5]. Clinically, the common scenario is unimpressive levels of agreement. If the average level of parent-reported concerns at a clinic had a T-score of 70 (two SDs above the mean, commonly considered “clinically elevated”), then the average level of teacher or youth reported concerns on the same scale would be T-scores of 54 to 56 – well within the normal range[6]. Given the high internal consistency of each informant report, some interpret the data as indicating a high degree of situational specificity in behavior[7], though this is challenging to reconcile with models that formulate cases in terms of the presence or absence of a diagnosis[8]. Others have interpreted findings as indicating that some informants are valid for one diagnosis, and not others. Clinicians often consider youth report more accurate for internalizing problems, and not accurate about attention problems, for example[9]. Rater validity also may change by setting: parents may be better informants than teachers about sleep disturbance, for example, because teachers will not observe bedtime behavior or waking[10]. More subtly, “teacher report” is not all the same context: Children spend most of the school day in the same room in elementary school, and start shifting between rooms and teachers for different subjects in middle and high school. Yet another factor contributing to the disagreement is that different informants may notice or care about different symptoms[11][12]. Agreement also changes longitudinally with development[13].



Steps to put into practice


Tables and figures



  1. De Los Reyes, A., Augenstein, T. M., Wang, M., Thomas, S. A., Drabick, D. A., Burgers, D. E., & Rabinowitz, J. (2015). The validity of the multi-informant approach to assessing child and adolescent mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 141(4), 858-900. doi: 10.1037/a0038498
  2. Achenbach, T. M., McConaughy, S. H., & Howell, C. T. (1987). Child/Adolescent behavioral and emotional problems: Implication of cross-informant correlations for situational specificity. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 213-232. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.101.2.213
  3. Duhig, A. M., Renk, K., Epstein, M. K., & Phares, V. (2000). Interparental Agreement on Internalizing, Externalizing, and Total Behavior Problems: A Meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 7(4), 435-453. doi: 10.1093/clipsy.7.4.435
  4. Rescorla, L. A., Ginzburg, S., Achenbach, T. M., Ivanova, M. Y., Almqvist, F., Begovac, I., . . . Verhulst, F. C. (2013). Cross-informant agreement between parent-reported and adolescent self-reported problems in 25 societies. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 42(2), 262-273. doi: 10.1080/15374416.2012.717870
  5. Achenbach, T. M., Krukowski, R. A., Dumenci, L., & Ivanova, M. Y. (2005). Assessment of adult psychopathology: Meta-analyses and implications of cross-informant correlations. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 361-382. doi: 2005-04167-003 [pii]10.1037/0033-2909.131.3.361
  6. Youngstrom, E. A., Meyers, O. I., Youngstrom, J. K., Calabrese, J. R., & Findling, R. L. (2006). Diagnostic and measurement issues in the assessment of pediatric bipolar disorder: Implications for understanding mood disorder across the life cycle. Development and Psychopathology, 18, 989-1021. doi: 10.1017/S0954579406060494
  7. Achenbach, T. M. (2006). As Others See Us: Clinical and Research Implications of Cross-Informant Correlations for Psychopathology. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(2), 94-98. doi: 10.1111/j.0963-7214.2006.00414.x
  8. Youngstrom, E. A., Findling, R. L., & Calabrese, J. R. (2003). Who are the comorbid adolescents? Agreement between psychiatric diagnosis, parent, teacher, and youth report. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31(Special section on comorbidity), 231-245.
  9. De Los Reyes, A., & Kazdin, A. E. (2004). Measuring informant discrepancies in clinical child research. Psychological Assessment, 16(3), 330-334.
  10. Youngstrom, E. A., Joseph, M. F., & Greene, J. (2008). Comparing the psychometric properties of multiple teacher report instruments as predictors of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 64(4), 382-401.
  11. De Los Reyes, A., & Kazdin, A. E. (2005). Informant discrepancies in the assessment of childhood psychopathology: A critical review, theoretical framework, and recommendations for further study. Psychological Bulletin, 131(4), 483-509. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.131.4.483
  12. Freeman, A. J., Youngstrom, E. A., Freeman, M. J., Youngstrom, J. K., & Findling, R. L. (2011). Is caregiver-adolescent disagreement due to differences in thresholds for reporting manic symptoms? Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 21(5), 425-432. doi: 10.1089/cap.2011.0033
  13. van der Ende, J., Verhulst, F. C., & Tiemeier, H. (2012). Agreement of informants on emotional and behavioral problems from childhood to adulthood. Psychological Assessment, 24(2), 293-300. doi: 10.1037/a0025500