|Ask a DECA Trainer
- What is DECI’s recommendation about using the DECA with a child with Autism, or, any spectrum delay?
- My staff are not sure how to define the frequency terms used to rate the DECA items including Rarely, Occasionally, Frequently, etc... Can you help us come up with a system that we all can use?
- How do you address and work with teaching staff who are clearly rating the children in a more positive light than is the reality of their behavior? We call this the “halo effect”; wanting not to appear as if they can’t handle the behaviors they are facing.
- What exactly is a DECA Program “LPM?”
- Why are there only three items on the Attachment Scale of the DECA that refer to “significant or familiar adults”?
- If a child's score is in an area of concern, at what point should you refer?
- Is the DECA a screener or an assessment, or both?
- What is an easy way to help my staff remember the three DECA Protective Factors, particularly when just introducing the program and trying to get them excited!
- As a mental health consultant I am often brought into a situation after the relationship between the teachers and the parents has been strained due to poor communication, stress and hurt feelings. Do you have any tips I can share with teachers and administrators for how to discuss tough topics with parents before I get involved?
- As an early childhood mental health consultant I find that I am often helping administrators deal with complaints from parents about a specific child’s behavior. When parents want a particular child expelled, an administrator is caught between a rock and a hard place. Do you have any tips for how I can help an administrator handle this situation?
- What guidance does Devereux provide around the number of visits that a home visitor should make before conducting a rating on a child?
- If you have a non-English speaking child in your program who displays MORE protective factors when interacting with his same language peers, and significantly FEWER protective factors when interacting with his English speaking peers, should you do a DECA based on his interactions with English or native language peers?"
Question #1: What is DECI’s recommendation about using the DECA with a child with Autism, or, any spectrum delay?
Answer: The Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) was not designed to identify or help diagnose a child with an autism-spectrum disorder (ASD). We also do not have any specific information on how the ratings of children with ASD compare with their typically developing peers. However, although the DECA isn’t intended to help diagnose a child with ASD, an understanding of their within-child protective factors can be very useful in the treatment and education of the child. Children on the autism spectrum will need support in the development of these protective factors because of the nature of their disability. Some of the areas measured by the DECA, such as attachment, may be especially important for children with ASD.
Two additional points should be considered in the use of the DECA with children with ASD. All of us know that the parents of young children with ASD will be very concerned and, in some cases, overwhelmed by their child’s special needs. The use of the DECA with these parents and especially involving them in home-based strategies, can reinforce their feelings of efficacy and build their confidence and self-esteem. Secondly, the DECA can often help bridge the language gap between early childhood educators and special educators resulting in a shared understanding of the child’s strengths, needs, and individualizing in planning.
Finally, all children, whether they have special needs or not, benefit from strong within-child protective factors. As Sam Goldstein and Robert Brooks noted in their book, The Handbook of Resilience in Children, “The best predictors of children’s functional outcomes…lay not in relief of their symptoms but rather in an understanding, appreciation and nurturance of their strengths and assets.”
Question #2: My staff are not sure how to define the frequency terms used to rate the DECA items including Rarely, Occasionally, Frequently, etc... Can you help us come up with a system that we all can use?
Answer: When the DECA was developed, the authors conducted focus groups to determine what terms would be most appropriate to label the frequency of behaviors assessed by the DECA. The terms Never, Rarely, Occasionally, Frequently and Very Frequently were selected. When the tool was then standardized across the country with over 2,000 raters, raters were not provided with guidance or instruction about how to define these terms. Rather, the standardization process left the interpretation entirely up to the raters. Based on the results from the national standardization process, raters did in fact have similar understandings and interpretations of these labels.
Based on our findings from the national standardization process, the authors recommend that raters not be provided with definitions of the frequency terms. Rather, if there is a concern, the authors recommend making it clear to raters that their interpretation of the frequency terms, whatever that definition may be, should be used consistently when rating children. Also, it may be helpful if raters are not sure about how to most appropriate rate a child, to actually put the frequency labels right into the question when thinking about the item and reflecting on which statement most accurately reflects their observations of the child. For example, for question #5, the rater might say, "Maria occasionally controls her anger" or "Maria frequently controls her anger." After hearing both statements and reflecting, the rater should feel more confident selecting the appropriate frequency for that particular item.
Question #3: How do you address and work with teaching staff who are clearly rating the children in a more positive light than is the reality of their behavior? We call this the “halo effect”; wanting not to appear as if they can’t handle the behaviors they are facing.
Answer: First, it is important to start back at the beginning and refocus on the importance of resilience. Remind the teachers WHY we need to know about a child’s protective factors so we can help him or her to develop and grow into the happiest and successful child they can be. Some of the sample profiles in the User’s Guide can be used to illustrate how a child’s behavioral concerns could be prevented if protective factors are strengthened early on.
Second, this question brings into light the importance of each rater conducting observations, and then having a discussion about what they are each seeing and hearing.
Third, we need to consider that perhaps there is a reason the teacher doesn’t feel safe exposing her reality and challenges to her colleagues and supervisors, or, that she may not have a clear understanding of the children and/or the DECA. If we believe the teacher doesn't feel safe making herself appear vulnerable, her supervisor needs to work on building trust. It would be important to let the teacher know that she does not have to appear perfect and to validate the fact that she does, in fact, have her hands full.
Finally, a useful strategy might be to review the behaviors on the DECA item by item NOT using the DECA form, but just the list. Try this with a few children with obvious challenges. E.g. "Lets take some time to talk about James, does he show patience?"
In closing, consider that there is a possibility that the children's behavior does, in fact, differ with the teacher and the teacher's assistant. The most important thing is to understand each rater's reason for rating the child as they did, whether is reflects the child's behavior, their need to look good to their supervisor, their misunderstanding of the purpose of the rating, or other factors.
Question #4: What exactly is a DECA Program “LPM?”
Answer: LPM stands for Local Program Mentor. The DECA Program created the LPM Training in 2000 to help create internal DECA Program “experts” to facilitate meaningful understanding and use of the DECA Program in their local programs and communities. LPM candidates attend 2 additional days of training beyond 2 Day Basic Implementation Training, during which time they learn the key messages of the DECA Program and how to help program staff understand and implement the key messages.
LPMs who complete a take-home competency assessment can become Devereux Recognized Local Program Mentors. Devereux Recognized LPMs receive access to a segment of our website that offers free downloadable resources to enhance DECA Program use, and are DECI’s first “go to” individuals in their own state or region.
Question #5: Why are there only three items on the Attachment Scale of the DECA that refer to “significant or familiar adults”?
Question submitted by Menominee-Delta-Schoolcraft Community Action Agency Early Childhood Program-Escanaba, MI
Answer: Considering the wording of the eight Attachment questions, there ARE five that do not specify that the adult is a significant, trusted adult in the child's life- but, the wording of these five questions shows that the "interest" in adults is the key factor in the question- not that the adult is one that already has a significant bond with the child. To truly capture the essence of a child's willingness and ability to reach out to form bonds with adults, you need to measure more facets of Attachment other than just, does the child "trust familiar adults". The items on the DECA attempt to capture the overarching themes of a child being able to bond such as interest, comfort, play, seeking help, and finally, trusting relationships.
Question #6: If a child's score is in an area of concern, at what point should you refer?
Question submitted by Celeste R. Jones, Education Coordinator Organized Community Action Program, Inc. / Head Start
Answer: The DECA Program is an assessment and planning system designed as one tool to help teachers feel more empowered to plan for the social/emotional needs of children with whom they work. We typically recommend that after the initial assessment, results are used for planning in the classroom both at the universal level (i.e. strategies integrated into lesson plans that help promote social and emotional development for ALL children in the classroom) as well as planning for targeted needs (i.e. creating individualized plans for children with an area of concern on the assessment).
Once plans are in place and are given time to work (depending on the child, it can take up to 6 weeks for a strategy to be consistently successful), a referral might then be made for additional observation, planning, or evaluation if changes are not observed in the child's behavior. At times it might be appropriate to make the referral more quickly based on other information that you have/know about that child. The DECA is one piece of information that helps your program make decisions about next steps. As always, multiple sources should be used toward referrals.
Question #7: Is the DECA a screener or an assessment, or both?
Answer: We hope this official response from DECI helps programs wondering if the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) is an appropriate screening tool for children's social and emotional health. The DECA is a behavioral rating scale that includes a total of 37 items-- 27 of which assess a child's protective factors related to resilience (Initiative, Self-Control and Attachment) and 10 of which screen for behavioral concerns. Devereux describes the tool as an assessment of protective factors and a screener for behavioral concerns. Therefore, the tool is appropriate for use as a screening instrument, but in addition, provides valuable information about a child's protective factors. It is the unique aspect of assessing protective factors that makes the DECA such a strong choice for programs to use as their social/emotional screener. The DECA not only screens for behavioral concerns, but also collects information about a child's resilience. Devereux's philosophy, which is supported by resilience research, is that intervention should not be put off until a child is displaying behavioral issues, but rather, should begin if a child is showing a lack of protective factors. Resilience research points out the importance of promoting children's protective factors as a means of preventing the development of emotional/behavioral problems. Thus, information gathered from the DECA during screening can be used for program planning to increase children’s protective factors.
Question #8: What is an easy way to help my staff remember the three DECA Protective Factors, particularly when just introducing the program and trying to get them excited!
The Songs of Resilience offer excellent “catchy” ways to learn about and remember the three DECA Program protective factors (see www.Growing-Sound.org) – and, before the development of the Songs of Resilience in 2007, the original protective factor song was:
Sung to the tune of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (with motions in parentheses)
Attachment (hold hands lovingly to heart)
Initiative (raise hand as if volunteering)
Self-Control, Self-Control (fold arms and cross over chest)
Protective Factors Help us Grow (bend down and slowly stand up while raising arms over head, like a flower budding out of the ground)
Question #9:As a mental health consultant I am often brought into a situation after the relationship between the teachers and the parents has been strained due to poor communication, stress and hurt feelings. Do you have any tips I can share with teachers and administrators for how to discuss tough topics with parents before I get involved?
Answer: One of our jobs as mental health consultants is to support the growth of the adults we work with so that they may be better equipped for the next time a challenging situation occurs. Here are 6 suggestions you may share with teachers and administrators who are preparing to address a family regarding their child’s challenging behavior:
1. Schedule a time to talk to the parent(s). This is not a conversation to have during drop-off or pick-up times.
2. Be honest and positive about the child. Tell the parent about the child’s positive traits and development.
3. In describing your concerns, be clear that you are simply reporting observations. Try not to interpret the child’s observed behavior. This allows you to take a neutral stance where neither the child nor parent feels blamed.
4. Ask the parent how your childcare observations compare to their experiences at home.
5. Let parents know you are willing to work with them to brainstorm solutions that will be helpful at childcare and at home.
6. Thank them for their willingness to cooperate and keep the lines of communication open…
Question #10: As an early childhood mental health consultant I find that I am often helping administrators deal with complaints from parents about a specific child’s behavior. When parents want a particular child expelled, an administrator is caught between a rock and a hard place. Do you have any tips for how I can help an administrator handle this situation?
Answer : Administrators are often caught between trying to accommodate the needs of one child who is challenging while trying to assure the safety of all the children in their care. When parents start to express concerns, administrators must handle the situation with diplomacy. Below are some tips you may want to review with administrators:
• Put yourself in their shoes. The parent who has a complaint is likely feeling fear and frustration regarding her own child’s safety. The parent may even feel powerless to protect her own child, especially if the child has already been physically hurt.
• Thank the parents for sharing their feelings. Make sure you convey that you have heard and appreciate the parent’s concerns. Validate their fears, anger or frustration.
• Be open to trying the parent’s suggestions. The parent who has made the complaint may have a good viewpoint (from the outside) on how deal with the issue at hand.
• Keep the focus on helping the child or children. Without breaking confidentiality, explain to the parent that your center is committed to supporting a child that is presenting challenging behavior while protecting the safety of the others. The children’s well-being is the most important component of child care programs.
• Keep the lines of communication open. While parent complaints about challenging behavior may be uncomfortable, don’t forget that this parent chose to tell you specifically about her concerns. You may be the person in your center with whom this parent feels the most comfortable and trusts – value this!
• Check back. Wait a few days and check back in with this parent. Let her know you are still observing and noting when the challenging behavior occurs.
• You may also want to write a follow-up letter. After a parent has made a complaint, you could write a letter to the individual or all parents outlining what concrete steps that have been taken to alleviate challenging behavior.
• Avoid parent-to-parent confrontations and maintain confidentiality. Assure the parents that they will be informed about incidents pertaining to their children while maintaining confidentiality with each family. Angry parent-to-parent confrontations will not eliminate the challenging behaviors. “Thank you for sharing your concerns with me – I appreciate your feedback. I will speak to the other child’s parent directly to ensure confidentiality for both of you.”
Question #11: What guidance does Devereux provide around the number of visits that a home visitor should make before conducting a rating on a child?
Answer : As stated in the User's Manual, Devereux suggests that a teacher should, at a minimum, observe the child for two to three hours a day, for two to three days per week, for four weeks. Devereux made this recommendation based on feedback from early childhood educators who worked in group settings. Because of the differences between home visitation services and care in a group setting, Devereux offers modified recommendations for home visitors. Devereux strongly recommends that a home visitor wait a minimum of 4 weeks before conducting the rating, but that the number and length of visits within that period of time might vary. The most important question for the home visitor to be able to answer is: "Do I feel that I know the child well enough to confidently respond to the questions on the record form?" If the answer is ‘yes’ and she has known the child for a minimum of 4 weeks, she can proceed to conduct her rating.
Question #12: If you have a non-English speaking child in your program who displays MORE protective factors when interacting with his same language peers, and significantly FEWER protective factors when interacting with his English speaking peers, should you do a DECA based on his interactions with English or native language peers?
Answer : Our recommended approach would be to do a DECA from both perspectives. Goals should be highly individualized for this child and perhaps there are strengths he exhibits with his native language peers that we can build on with his English speaking peers. Ultimately we will want him to exhibit his strengths in all social settings. Also, it is important to revisit our Reflective Checklists of program quality to make sure we are promoting a classroom environment that is welcoming and supportive of all languages and cultures, and offers many opportunities to partner with families around a child’s strengths and goals.