The Strengths of Youth in a Public Behavioral Health System: Measurement Choices, Prevalence Rates, and Group Differences

  • Sarah Accomazzo
  • Valerie B. Shapiro
  • Nathaniel Israel
  • B. K. Elizabeth Kim


Youth with severe emotional and behavioral problems receiving services in public behavioral health systems have strengths that are understudied in research and underutilized in practice. This study explores four alternative strategies (individual item scores, the number of “actionable” strengths, subscales, and a total composite) for summarizing the strengths of youth assessed with the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) in a large, urban, public behavioral health system. The paper examines whether these summarization strategies produce divergent understandings of the prevalence of strengths across gender, age, and racial groups. Analyses suggest that youth enter this system with high levels of strengths. There are few group differences in strengths across the diverse summarization strategies. Though the practice-preferred method of using individual strengths items provides the most interpretable information about strengths, the aggregation strategies may be useful for programs and systems. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.


Systems of care Children and adolescents Strengths Strengths-based assessment CANS 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© National Council for Behavioral Health 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Accomazzo
    • 1
  • Valerie B. Shapiro
    • 1
  • Nathaniel Israel
    • 2
  • B. K. Elizabeth Kim
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Social WelfareUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Chapin Hall Research CenterUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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