Family functioning is one way to measure how a family meets its physical and psychological needs; in other words, it quantifies the family’s emotional environment1,2. Family functioning has been found to be associated with chronic physical and mental illness in children3–6; however, family functioning is not consistently measured in clinical health care settings or large scale studies investigating child wellness. While there are multiple measures available to assess family functioning, we sought to identify a measure that enabled individuals to report their own functioning and did not require lengthy assessment or responses.7
The purpose of this study was to pilot a brief measure of family functioning in pediatric primary care. We administered the General Functioning Subscale of the Family Assessment Device1,8, which consisted of 12 items to 400 families from two different pediatric primary care sites in Columbus, Ohio. One of the challenges we face as researchers and practitioners is to identify tools that will accurately and consistently measure a phenomenon of interest. In addition, we are also interested in measures that can accomplish these tasks without creating fatigue in our patients and participants. Patients are often inundated with assessment at appointments, increasing the likelihood of incomplete or inaccurate answers. Through piloting the General Functioning Subscale, we hoped to identify a brief measure, capable of assessing family functioning, or the overall family emotional climate, in pediatric settings. Further, we sought to understand the rate of families presenting to pediatric primary care with clinically significant levels of impairment in their family functioning.
To qualify for our study, participants needed to read and write in English, be patients at a pediatric primary care office, and have at least one child between the ages of 2-18. In addition to the General Functioning Subscale of the Family Assessment Device, participants completed a brief demographic questionnaire, which assessed caregiver age, race/ethnicity education, employment, marital status, and child age, race/ethnicity, education, health insurance, and health diagnosis, as well as family income and the number of people living in the household. Most caregivers in our sample were female (77.7%) with a mean age of 38.18 years (SD = 7.96; range = 21-69 years). The majority of caregivers identified as Caucasian (81.5%), followed by African American (13.7%), Asian (1.0%), Biracial or Multiracial (1.3%), and Other (2.5%); however, a small number of participants identified as Hispanic (3.3%). Children were on average approximately 8 years old (SD=4.53; range=2-18 years), with a near even split of male and female child participants (53.6%). Children in this sample were insured with private health insurance (72.8%), and the majority of families reported an income above $50,000 per year.
In order to evaluate the psychometric properties of the General Functioning Subscale of the Family Assessment Device, we evaluated its reliability and convergent validity. Reliability, when measured through internal consistency is a measure of whether each person answers the 12 items in a similar or predictable fashion. This measure was found to have high reliability (α = .90). The second thing we evaluated was the convergent validity of the questionnaire. In this study, we were specifically investigating whether all 12 items could fit together as one construct: family functioning. The model fit was χ2(54) = 56.44, P = .38, with root mean square error of approximation = .01 and comparative fit index =.99, which indicates good model fit, and a single factor of family functioning. After establishing that the General Functioning Subscale of the Family Assessment Device was acceptable for use in pediatric settings, we explored the rate of families who scored above the clinical cut-off for impaired family functioning. This means that families were indicating impairment at the same level of families who were presenting for family therapy. Approximately 13% of families seeking pediatric care had clinically significant impaired family functioning, or problematic family dynamics.
The General Functioning Subscale of the Family Assessment Device offers a promising way to quantify family dynamics in pediatric care settings. The brief questionnaire (12 items) can be administered to families and scored with minimal training. Physicians seeking to provide comprehensive care to families can utilize this tool to make data driven decisions about referrals to behavioral health providers. Finally, the rate of impaired family functioning practice in pediatric primary care emphasizes the need for high quality integrated care for children and their families.
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