DECA Observation Journal (A Planning Resource)
The Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) is a nationally normed assessment of within-child protective factors in preschool children aged two to five.
Based on the belief that the primary value of assessment is to guide effective services for children, the DECA was developed over a two-year period (1996-98) as part of a comprehensive program to foster the healthy social and emotional development of children. Completed by parents, family caregivers or early childhood professionals (preschool teachers and child care providers), the DECA evaluates the frequency of 27 positive behaviors (strengths) exhibited by preschoolers. Typical items include "chooses to do tasks that are challenging for him/her," "shows patience," and "asks adults to play with or read to her/him." These items were derived from the childhood resilience literature and through focus groups conducted with parents and early childhood professionals. The DECA also contains a 10-item behavioral concerns screener.
The three primary purposes of the DECA are:
- to identify children who are low on the protective factors so that targeted classroom and home-based strategies can be implemented leading to the strengthening of these abilities;
- to generate classroom profiles indicating the relative strengths of all children so that classroom design and instructional strategies can build upon these strengths to facilitate the healthy social and emotional growth of all children;
- to screen for children who may be exhibiting behavioral concerns so that these can be addressed before they become entrenched and possibly develop into behavioral disorders. The DECA may be used as both an assessment and a screener.
The DECA was standardized on a sample of 2,000 preschool children who resided in 28 states. Half of the children in the sample were rated by a parent or other family caregiver; and half were rated by a preschool teacher or child care center staff. Similarly, 51% of the children rated were boys and 49% were girls. One quarter of the children in the sample were from poor families (defined as either receiving public assistance or subsidized child care), which matches the prevalence of poverty among young children. The sample was stratified on race, Hispanic ethnicity and region of residence. The most recent data available from the United States Department of the Census was used to identify appropriate percentages for these variables. The DECA Standardization Sample very closely approximates the population of the United States. As shown in the tables below, the DECA was normed on a sample of children that accurately reflects the diversity of preschool children in the country.
Standardization Sample: Race
|Total %||White||Black||Asian / Pacific Islander||Native American||Other*|
|DECA Sample |
(w/o "Other" category)
|* U.S. Bureau of the Census does not collect these data. Note : The U.S. population data are based on "Resident Population, by Race, Hispanic Origin, and Single Years of Age: 1995, Table No. 22," Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1996 The National Data Book by the U.S. Bureau of the Census 1996. Washington, D.C.: Author.|
Standardization Sample: Hispanic Origin
|* Numbers based on the entire population of each region. Note : The U.S. population data are based on "Resident Population, by Race, Hispanic Origin, and Single Years of Age: 1995, Table No. 22," Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1996 The National Data Book by the U.S. Bureau of the Census 1996. Washington, D.C.: Author.|
Standardization Sample: Region
|U.S. Population (<5)||18.5||22.4||34.6||24.5|
|Note : The U.S. population data are based on "Resident Population, by Age and State:1995, Table No. 34," Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1996 The National Data Book by the U.S. Bureau of the Census 1996. Washington, D.C.: Author.|
Exploratory factor analysis of the standardization items yielded a comprehensible series of scales that were consistent with published descriptive longitudinal research on protective factors. A three-factor solution fit the data best. Based on an inspection of the item content of the three factors, the scales were labeled:
- Initiative, which measures the child's ability to use independent thought and action to meet his or her needs.
- Self Control, which assesses the child's ability to experience a range of feelings and express them using the words and actions that society considers appropriate.
- Attachment, a measure of a mutual, strong and long-lasting relationship between a child and significant adults.
As shown in the table below, the DECA is a highly reliable instrument. Each of the alpha coefficients for the protective factor scales meets or exceeds the .80 "desirable standard" established by Bracken (1987) for internal consistency estimates. The alpha coefficient for the Behavioral Concerns Scale is lower, reflecting the heterogeneity of this scale.
Test-Retest reliabilities over a 24-hour period were calculated for both parents and teachers. The reliabilities for the protective factors ranged from .55 to .80 for parents and .87 to .94 for teachers. All of these correlations were significant at the .01 level.
Interrater reliability of the DECA was established by comparing ratings provided by teachers and teachers' aides. The reliabilities for the protective factors ranged from .59 to .77. Again, all correlations were significant at the .01 level.
|Total Protective Factor||.92|
The criterion validity of the DECA was established by examining its ability to correctly predict whether an individual child was part of a clinical (n=95) or a matched, non-referred (n=86) sample. Any child who had been given a psychiatric diagnosis, was being seen by a mental health professional for emotional or behavioral problems, had been asked to leave a child care program due to his/her behavior, or had an individualized behavior management plan in place was considered to be part of the clinical sample. If none of these conditions were true, the child became part of the non-referred sample.
Using the interpretive guidelines suggested in the DECA manual, the Total Protective Factors score was able to correctly classify 69% of the children in this study. This figure compares favorably with the classification accuracy of well-established scales of symptomatic behavior, such as the Devereux Scales of Mental Disorders (Naglieri, LeBuffe & Pfeiffer, 1995).
Construct validity was explored by correlating scores on the protective factor scales and the Behavioral Concerns scale. An overall correlation of -.65 was obtained indicating that protective factors and problem behaviors are inversely related.
Additional validity and reliability data are presented in the DECA Technical Manual.
The Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) is a measure of within-child protective factors in preschool children.
Five Step Systems
Based on resilience theory, this comprehensive program is made up of a 5-step system designed to support early childhood teachers, mental health professionals, and parents in their goal of helping children develop healthy social/emotional skills and reduce challenging behaviors.
Partnerships with families allow children to see the important adults in their lives working together to support their development.
Bracken, B. A. (1987). Limitations of preschool instruments and standards for minimal levels of technical adequacy. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 5, 313-326.
Garmezy , N. (1985). Stress-resistant children: the search for protective factors. In J. E. Stevenson (Ed.). Recent research in developmental psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (Book Supplement, Number 4, pp.213-233). Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Masten, A. S., & Garmezy, N. (1985). Risk, vulnerability and protective factors in developmental psychopathology. In B. B. Lahey & A. E. Kazdin (Eds.), Advances in clinical child psychology (Vol. 8, pp. 1-512). New York: Plenum.
Naglieri, J. A., LeBuffe, P. A., & Pfeiffer, S. I. (1995). The Devereux Scales of Mental Disorders. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.
Werner, E. E., & Smith, R. S. (1982). Vulnerable but invincible: A study of resilient children. New York: McGraw-Hill
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