Screening and Assessment Tools for Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs

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When providing services for youth who run away and youth who are experiencing homelessness, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Though many youth experience homelessness for similar reasons and many face similar challenges, every young person’s specific circumstances differ. And each young person has a unique set of strengths that can help support their transition to adulthood.

To help youth-serving organizations determine the types of interventions and services each young person needs, the National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families developed this list of screening and assessment tools. Updated in May 2020, the list is divided into sections covering mental health, substance use disorders, education, and life skills. 

Screening and assessment means using credible, evidence-informed tools and practices to evaluate each youth’s individual strengths and needs. Screening involves brief instruments that check for things such as traumatic stress and mental health problems and can identify youth who may need more thorough diagnostic evaluations and treatment. Assessment involves evaluating multiple aspects of social, emotional, and behavioral competencies and functioning to inform service planning and monitor progress toward better outcomes. To be trauma-informed, screening and assessing should only be done with the youth’s understanding, permission, and willingness to participate.

The screening and assessment tools listed here include those that are appropriate for use across various federal programs for youth and young adults generally between the ages of 12 and 24 and that are low cost or in the public domain. The exception to this low cost or no cost criterion are monitoring instruments that can be implemented at the system level, since it is assumed that the cost of those instruments might be shared across multiple agencies or partners.

You can find additional information on screening and assessment tools at the following locations:

SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions

NIDA Screening and Assessment Tools Chart

 Screening and Assessment Tools for Runaway and Homeless Youth

 

Evidence-Based Approach to Ending Youth Homelessness

As part of its effort to end youth homelessness by 2020, the federal government developed the Intervention Model for Unaccompanied Youth (PDF, 2.9MB). The model recommends runaway and homeless youth programs do the following, among other things:

  • Use evidence-based screening and assessment tools when youth enter a program.[1]
  • Use the information from screening and assessment to choose evidence-based interventions that can give young people stable housing, permanent connections, improved well-being, and opportunities for education and employment.

To help put the model into practice, the Family & Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) compiled this list of evidence-based, evidence-informed, and promising screening and assessment tools, in consultation with the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and its youth workgroup partners. Some of the tools listed here have been tested on populations that are considered by researchers to have backgrounds or issues similar to runaway and homeless youth, such as at-risk or foster youth. Some were not tested exclusively on disadvantaged populations, but have demonstrated reliability and validity across multiple populations. FYSB and USICH do not necessarily endorse the tools included in the list.

[1]The base of evidence showing how effective screening and assessment tools are, and how effective they are for distinct target populations is continually growing. In addition, new promising, potentially effective instruments are continually emerging. More information about understanding the continuum of evidence of effectiveness can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Understanding Evidence (PDF, 875KB) guide. The levels of evidence as defined by the CDC are presented below:

  • Evidence-based Interventions: These are well-supported interventions that have been found to be effective by at least two studies using well-controlled research designs that included randomized controlled trials with multiple follow-up assessments to track outcomes over time. Furthermore, the interventions have been tested in multiple settings, like outpatient clinics or in community programs.

  • Evidence-informed Interventions: These are supported interventions that have shown effectiveness, with evidence drawn from studies using research designs other than randomized controlled trials, such as quasi-experimental research designs.

  • Promising Interventions: These are interventions that may still be in the early phases of research. These interventions may show some level of effectiveness, but are based on studies that have used non-experimental designs, such as qualitative program evaluations and non-randomized pilot studies.

Not all of the tools are rated by the CDC, however. They appear in a variety of prominent federal, national, and academic databases that rate the effectiveness of interventions, and these entities may provide different ratings for the same intervention as a result of varying criteria for effectiveness. Therefore, the level of effectiveness for each intervention may be a composite of ratings reviewed from several databases and studies. 

How to Use the List

Consider the list a starting point.[2] It includes tools that you can use to screen for common mental health or behavioral issues or assess young people’s career readiness and life skills. To decide what tools best suit the needs of your programs and the youth you serve, you’ll need to investigate each tool further. This list provides as much information as possible at the time the list was compiled.

First, we recommend that you review assessment databases and their ratings, such as the Substance Use Screening & Assessment Instruments Database at the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington, the Educational Testing Service, and the Health Services and Sciences Research Resources database at the National Institutes of Health U.S. National Library of Medicine. More information about searching these sources as well as additional links to other instrument databases can be found at this compilation of instruments from the University of Vermont.

We also suggest that you look up the tools in this table in journal article databases like Google Scholar and PubMed Central. The ratings and the information in the articles will help you get a better sense of the tools you are interested in, and whether they are a good match for your organization’s needs.

Next, we recommend that you contact the publisher(s) and ask the following questions:

  • What qualifications do you need to obtain or purchase the tool? Some publishers require staff to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree to purchase the tool.
  • What qualifications do you need to administer the tool? Some publishers require staff with an advanced degree to interpret and report results.
  • What information do you need to provide to obtain a license to use the tool?
  • How much does the tool cost?
  • Is training required to use the tool? And if so, how much does that training cost?

Selecting the right tools for you will take some time and research. This list should help you get started.

[2]Several instruments in the table list the level of Response to Intervention (RTI) on which they fit. The RTI method is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of young people with specific learning and behavior needs. It groups instruments into one of three tiers:

  • Tier 1: Benchmarks all youth for behavior and/or social skills and identifies cases where social/emotional/behavior problems could interfere with learning.
  • Tier 2: Identifies appropriate interventions that improve behavior and social skills, and monitors behavior progress.
  • Tier 3: Monitors individuals with severe behavior or emotional problems more frequently or identify those needing to be referred to a behavioral specialist.
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