Pre-school screening for developmental and emotional health: Comparison with neurodevelopmental assessment.


AIM: The study aim was to compare detection of and referral for developmental and emotional problems in a school readiness screening programme (New Zealand Before School Check, B4SC) with that of a comprehensive neurodevelopmental assessment. METHODS: This is a prospective cohort study of children (n = 274) born at risk of neonatal hypoglycaemia and recruited to a follow-up study of neurodevelopmental outcomes at 4.5 years (Children with Hypoglycaemia and their Later Development (CHYLD) Study). Children identified as of significant concern for developmental and emotional problems, and referrals made, were compared in the B4SC and CHYLD Study. Scores of the parent-completed Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire used in both assessments were compared. RESULTS: Of the 274 children who underwent clinical neurodevelopmental assessment at a mean (standard deviation) age of 53.3 (1.8) months, 237 had the B4SC developmental and emotional health screening. Of these, 44 (19%) children met B4SC referral criteria, and 15 (6%) were referred, but only 21 (9%) children met CHYLD referral criteria, and 10 (4%) were referred. Twelve children (5%) met both the B4SC and CHYLD referral criteria, and two were referred by both. When assessed twice, 39 (17%) children changed parent-completed Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire category. Children who did not have B4SC screening had higher mean total difficulties score (10.5 vs. 8.2, P = 0.009) and were more likely to have cognitive delay than those who were screened (19% vs. 8%, P = 0.04). CONCLUSION: More children met referral criteria for the B4SC screening programme than for a more comprehensive neurodevelopmental assessment. Children who did not have screening had a higher incidence of cognitive and behaviour problems than those who did.