Infant/Toddler FAQs

Below you will find answers to frequently asked questions related to our infant and toddler initiative. If you can’t find your question answered here, we invite you to contact us.

We also answer your questions that are more general or specific to the other age groups we help support.

General FAQs, Preschool FAQs, Adult FAQs

General / Assessment

Q1. How were the items and factors developed for the infant and toddler assessments?

To create the items and scales for the DECA Infant (DECA-I) and DECA Toddler (DECA-T), the authors began with a thorough literature review, followed by focus groups with parents and caregivers/teachers. Next, readability and cultural sensitivity of the items were examined. Upon obtaining a pool of strength-based items related to protective factors and social and emotional health, national standardization occurred. Factor analysis was used to determine the best factor solution from psychometric and interpretability perspectives. Reliability and validity studies were then conducted. The DECA-I ended up with 33 items and the DECA-T with 36 items, reflecting positive behaviors (strengths) typically seen in resilient children. Factor analysis elicited a strong two-factor solution for the infants and a strong three-factor solution for the toddlers.

Q2. Why is there a self-regulation scale on the DECA Toddler, but not the DECA Infant?

Factor analysis did not elicit a separate self-regulation (SR) scale for infants ages 4 weeks to 18 months. Several items related to self-regulation factored into what was later called the attachment/relationships (AR) scale. Many experts agree that the development of self-regulation in the first year of life is synonymous with the adult-child attachment/relationship, and the two are difficult to tease apart. When looking closely at the AR scale for infants, the items that are indicative of SR in relation to healthy attachment/relationships include: accept comfort from a familiar adult; calm down with help from a familiar adult; and seek comfort from familiar adults.

Q3. Why are there no "negative" behaviors (no behavioral concerns scale)?

Initially, when generating the item pool, there was a list of behavioral concern items. It was evident that all of these items could be written in a strength-based way and still allow raters to pick up on risk. For example, one of the negative behaviors was “does not engage in eye contact.” It can just as easily be worded, “engages in eye contact,” and if scored as happening “never” on the Likert scale, it would show up as a risk. Feedback from clinicians, parents, researchers, and early care and education providers supported the 100 percent strength-based approach to the DECA-I and DECA-T.

Q4. Are the assessments available in Spanish?

Yes! Both the DECA Infant and DECA Toddler are available in Spanish.

Q5. Is there research on the cultural appropriateness of the DECA-I/T?
  1. Many, but not all, of the items on the DECA-I/T were derived from the DECA Preschool. These items had been reviewed by the Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services Program of the ERIC Clearinghouse for potential bias against minority children. Any items that raised concern were not included on the DECA. When the DECA-I/T was developed, the CLAS program had been defunded, so we were not able to have the new items, which are unique to the DECA-I/T reviewed in the same way.
  2. The norms on the DECA-I/T are based on a large, nationally representative sample of infants and toddlers. Chidlren from various racial and ethnic groups were included in the standardization sample in number proportional to their representation in the nation.
  3. We did explicitly test for bias, defined as mean score differences, between (1) Black and Caucasian and (2) Latino/a and Caucasian children on each scale of the DECA-I/T. In 18 of the 28 comparisons, the differences between the mean scores obtained by the different groups of children were “negligible,” operationally defined as a d-ratio of less than .20. This means that the mean scores differed by less than about two T-score points – a trivial, non-consequential difference. Of the remaining 10 comparisons, eight were classified as “small” differences (3-5 T-score differences) and only two met criteria for a “medium” difference (6-7 T-score points). In these two cases, the Latino/a children had higher mean scores than the Caucasian children. So there is little evidence of meaningful differences between Black or Latino/a children and their Caucasian peers, and where it did exist, it was in favor of the Latino/a children.
  4. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the DECA-I/T user to make sure that the DECA-I/T is appropriate to use with the group of children in their care. This is especially true if you are working with populations of children other than Black or Latino/a. Should you be using the DECA-I/T with children from a particular ethnic, cultural, or other group, we strongly suggest that you have the DECA-I/T items reviewed by an expert in that culture, and take into account any reservations or recommendations that they might have. For instance, you might ask raters to leave a particular item unanswered if cultural experts feel that it is inappropriate for children from that group.

Administering the Assessment

Q1. Can the DECA-I/T be used as a screener AND an assessment?

Yes! It depends on the process and purpose for which it is used. If the DECA-I/T is used to assess children’s protective factors and results are used to plan for that child’s growth and/or plan for all children’s growth, then it is being used as an assessment. If the DECA-I/T is used only to identify which children may need further observation or assessment, then it is being used as a screener.

Q2. What guidance does Devereux provide around the number of visits a home visitor should make before conducting a rating on a child?

As stated in the DECA-I/T User’s Manual, we suggest that a teacher should, at a minimum, observe the child for 2-3 hours a day for 2-3 days a week for four weeks total. We make 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, we offer modified recommendations for home visitors. We strongly recommend that a home visitor wait a minimum of four weeks before conducting a rating, but understand that the number and length of visits within that period may vary. The most important question for the home visitor to be able 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 you have known the child for a minimum of four weeks, you can proceed to conduct a rating.

Q3. If my preschool has a two-year-old enrolled, is it appropriate to use the DECA Toddler (DECA-T) or the DECA Preschool (DECA-P2)?

In general, the DECA-T is recommended for two-year-old children. However, in those cases where a child is enrolled in a program for three-year-olds and the child will turn three years old within a matter of a few months (three months is the recommended limit), the DECA-P2 can be used. Studies were conducted to determine if results for “older twos” differed significantly from the three-year-olds in the DECA-P2 sample. Significant differences were not found.

Q4. Can we use this for children above the age of three, but who are developmentally below the age?

The DECA-I/T was standardized with a sample of children ages 4 weeks up to 36 months, therefore, the standardized scores (T-scores and percentiles) can only be used for children falling within that age range. If a DECA-I or DECA-T is used with a child older than 36 months, the results can be used for planning purposes only.

Q5. How should my staff interpret the terms Never/Rarely/Occasionally/Frequently/Very Frequently when responding to the assessment items?

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/Very Frequently were selected. When the tool was then standardized across the United States with over 2K 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 the definitions may be) should be used consistently when rating children. Also, it may be helpful if raters are not sure how to most appropriately 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, 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.

Q6. Is it appropriate to use the DECA-I/T with children who have special needs?

As a strength-based tool to screen and assess social and emotional strengths in infants and toddlers, we encourage programs to use the DECA-I/T with ALL children. While we promote the use of the DECA-I/T with all children, we also caution programs that staff need to be sensitive to specific situations, and not in any way use information gained from the DECA-I/T in ways that would be harmful or detrimental to a child and his/her family. For instance, if a child with severe disabilities scores entirely in the need range of the DECA-I/T protective factor scales, the individual interpreting and sharing that information with families needs to be sensitive to the child’s particular condition. It should be noted that many developmental disabilities do in fact impact social and emotional development, and therefore, in many cases we would expect to see lower DECA-I/T scores in the areas of initiative, self-regulation, and attachment/relationships. This information is still valuable, as it will likely support goals already identified, as well as offer a strength-based method for setting goals. The information gained through the DECA-I/T should be considered one piece of a much larger system of information-gathering and assessment.

Results should be communicated with families and used to develop comprehensive plans that identify goals and strategies for all of the areas of need, including those that will promote protective factors for the child. Additionally, for children who score in the area of need range across the board on protective factors, we recommend looking at the individual items on the protective factors scales to determine the child’s relative strengths and goals. This information, as well as continuous observations, can be very useful in the planning process. While we do not have data on the representation of children with disabilities in our standardization sample, we know that children with disabilities were included based on their inclusion in the numerous Early Heard Start programs, and other programs that provide infant and toddler care, that participated in the standardization process.

Scoring and Interpreting the Assessment

Q1. How do I score blank items on the DECA-I/T?

See below, and please refer to the User’s Guide, pages 23 and 43, for a more detailed reply. Also note that if using the e-DECA, it scores the DECA for you.

If there is one one blank item on the record form, you can score that item a “3” and continue with scoring. If there are two blank items, it is essential to determine if they fall on the same protective factor scale. If there are two blank items on a record form that fall on the same protective factor scale, that scale has too much missing information and is not able to be scored. Though the other scales may be scored, the scale with two missing items may only be used as a source of qualitative information to assist in selecting individualized and appropriate strategies for the child. If the two blank items are on two different protective factor scales (i.e., one per scale), score each item as a “3” and proceed with scoring. If there are three or more blank items on the DECA-I or DECA-T, it is not able to be scored. It can be used for planning purposes only.

Q2. How do we score a child who was born premature?

We do not adjust for age. This is a prevention tool used for planning, therefore, we look at where the child is according to age and plan based on what parents and other information are telling us. We included children who were born premature in our study sample, and there were no statistical differences found in the way the children scored from the rest of the sample set.

Q3. Why are there four Individual Child Profiles for the DECA-I and only one for the DECA-T?

When examining children’s total protective factor scale, raw score means, and standard deviations for age, trends were found for the infants and not for the toddlers.

Q4. What do the Strength, Typical, and Area of Need ranges mean?

Strength is a T-score of 60 or above, meaning this is an area where the child was one standard deviation from the norm heading in a strength direction (high T-scores mean the child was doing the strength-based behavior frequently or very frequently).

Typical is a T-score of 41-59. This is the area that about 68 percent of children fall; it means that compared to others their age, the child’s behavior is typica.

Area of Need is the category of T-scores 40 or below, meaning the child fell one standard deviation or more away from the norm and may need some support to further develop a protective factors.

Q5. What is the score a child needs to be considered "at risk" and needing a referral?

If a child has a T-score in the range of 40 or below, that factor is considered to be “at risk,” as it falls one standard deviation from the normative sample mean. This score alone does not automatically indicate a need for referral. The data from the DECA-I/T should be used with other information to make decisions about what children may need.

Q6. My district uses percent delay to identify if children need prevention services or a referral. How do I find a percent delay?

See the DECA-I/T User’s Guide, page 32, for more detail. Many states use percentage delays to find sufficient risk for early prevention and intervention services. For instance, a state may require a 25 percent delay in one or more domains. This approach has been operationalized using assessments that provide an age-equivalent score. For instance, a 36-month-old child who receives an age-equivalent score of 27 months would be demonstrating a 25 percent delay.

The DECA-I/T scores can be used in a similar way. Given that a T-score of 50 is considered “average,” a 25 percent delay would be a score of 37 (50 minus 25 precent (12.5) is 37.5, which rounds to 37). Children with a T-score of 37 on a protective factor scale could be considered 25 percent delayed. With this approach, the 25 percent delay concept results in a cut score of about one standard deviation from the mean, which is a value that has been used for many years as a reasonable rough estimate to indicate cause for concern.

Outcomes and Results

Q1. How do I compare a pretest rating for a child in one DECA Infant age range (e.g., 1-3 months) to a posttest rating for the same child who has now aged into a different DECA Infant age range (e.g., 6-9 months)?

You would use this pre-post table. Note that when you are comparing pre and post ratings within a DECA Infant age range (e.g., the child is within 6-9 months at both pre and post), you would use the tables in Appendix C of the DECA-I/T User’s Guide. The tables in Appendix C would also be used when comparing pre and post ratings done with the DECA Toddler record form at both points.

Q2. What amount of change in a child's DECA-I/T results should our program expect?

The amount of change noted in children’s scores depends on a number of factors, including how much risk and adversity the child is experiencing, the degree of fidelity in which the DECA-I/T Program is being implemented, the consistency of the raters, etc. However, in general, we typically find that a good program doing a decent job of implementing the DECA-I/T Program sees, on average, a 3-5 T-score point change across one program year. Another good way to consider this is that a common rule of thumb in the social sciences is that a change of only one T-score point is negligible or meaningless. A change of 2, 3, or 4 points is a small change. A change of 5, 6, or 7 points is a medium change, and any chance of 8 points or more is a large change. Usually, social science and education folks are very happy to get a medium change over a one-year period. We offer a template for calculating scores changes, along with directions.

Q3. Can I do a pretest-posttest comparison to examine changes in a child's social-emotional competence across assessments (e.g., a pretest DECA-T and a posttest DECA-P2)?

Yes, however, a number of recommendations apply. Click here for these recommendations, as well as the values required for significance when comparing across assessments for both parent and teacher raters.

Q4. How can the DECA-I and/or the DECA-T be used to measure outcomes for individual children, groups of children, and program evaluation and quality improvement purposes?

The value of the DECA is that it not only provides psychometrically-sound measures of within-child protective factors in individual children and groups of children, but it can also be used for progress-monitoring and program evaluation purposes. Progress-monitoring consists of administering an assessment, such as the DECA, multiple times throughout a school year in order to examine how children are responding to a particular intervention or program. The goal of progress-monitoring is to obtain feedback during the intervention or program so that the nature of intensity of the intervention or program can be adjusted to maximize the chance of a successful outcome. Progress-monitoring may occur multiple times over the year. In contrast, program evaluation refers to examining the progress or chance observed over a defined period of time, such as a school year, to determine overall program effectiveness. This document will provide guidance on using our assessment tool to both monitor the acquisition of protective factors of young children and to evaluate the impact of intervention.

Q5. How do the DECA Program strategies and Conscious Discipline strategies differ in the e-DECA?

In best practice, following the completion of a DECA on a child, the teaching staff review the results and then proceed to implement a strategy plan based on the results. The e-DECA offers a menu of strategies specifically designed to strengthen the child’s healthy attachment/relationships, self-regulation and initiative, as well as strategies to reduce behavioral concerns. For those programs using the DECA Program strategies, the list of ideas suggested come directly from the published print resources included in the DECA Program: Infant and Toddlers Strategies Guide; Promoting Resilience in Preschoolers; Promoting Resilience For Now and Forever (Infant/Toddler edition and Preschool edition); and FLIP IT! Transforming Challenging Behavior. For those programs using Conscious Discipline, those strategies come directly from the team at Loving Guidance and are based on the Conscious Discipline framework. In some cases, the strategies may sound similar, but the title used to describe the strategy and implementation suggestions are unique and represent differences in how the DECA Program and Conscious Discipline approach a specific intervention. In other cases, Conscious Discipline offers strategies directly from their resources, and therefore, the idea is not offered on the DECA Program strategy list. Lastly, a strategy may appear on both the DECA Program and Conscious Discipline lists and read exactly the same. Both are based on research and best practice. In order to really see for yourself what the differences are in the strategies, we do offer sandbox/demo programs where you can experience the standard e-DECA and the Conscious Discipline e-DECA. We invite you to visit both so that you can assess both sets of strategies.

Q6. What is the best terminology to use when discussing changes in pre-post DECA scores?

When the amount of change between a child’s DECA ratings from one point in time to another exceeds the threshold presented by the standard error of prediction, these changes can be described as “significant.” If the changes are positive (higher protective factors and lower behavioral concerns), the terms “significant increase” and “significant decrease” are appropriate. Often, however, a child’s scores will change in one direction or the other, but the change is not large enough to exceed the standard error of prediction. When this happens, it is not known if the change is really measuring differences or if the change is simply due to chance/random error. Nevertheless, we believe that trends in the data that are positive, even if not significant, should be recognized and used to encourage continued progress. We suggest using language like, “scores are improving,” or “scores are trending in the right direction.”

Professional Development and Kit Resources

Q1. What training options are available for those working with infants and/or toddlers?

You can check out our Virtual Trainings Schedule, Free Webinars Schedule, submit a request for training, or reach out to Director of Professional Development Debi Mahler at [email protected] or (610) 574-6141.

Q2. What strategies are available for infants and/or toddlers?

Strategies for the home setting and group setting are provided through two resources: (1) DECA for Infants and Toddlers Strategies Guide, and (2) Promoting Resilience For Now and Forever Family Guide (Infants and Toddlers). We also offer resources to help promote adult resilience: Devereux Adult Resilience Survey (DARS), Building Your Bounce: Simple Strategies for a Resilient You.

Clinical Assessment

Q1. Are you going to develop a clinical assessment for infants/toddlers like the DECA-C (Clinical) for preschoolers?

No, not at this time. A thorough review of the DECA-I/T items, in relation to the Diagnostic Classification System for Infants and Toddlers, was completed by a group of licensed infant mental health clinicians. The outcome was that the DECA-I/T items would pick up on behaviors related to social and emotional risk utilizing the strength-based approach. In research studies, the DECA-I/T is shown to be sensitive to risk in the social and emotional realm, and an infant or toddler who is exhibiting risk should score in the Area of Need range on this tool. Also, see the DECA-I/T Technical Manual, page 33-34, for information on Criterion validity study. Children who were in the identified group (expelled due to challenging behavior, identified and receiving early intervention for SE challenges) scored in the Area of Need range as predicted 75 percent of the time for infants and 78 percent for toddlers (TPF scale).

Q2. The DECA-C (Clinical) can be used for children ranging from age two up to age six. Can you provide guidance around how to compare score changes on the DECA-C?

You can use this template, and here are directions for using it.

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