Intervention Spotlight: 3 Tools for Universal Screening

450 to 1. That’s the average counselor to student ratio in this country and nearly double what experts recommend. That means that while we want to intervene for students in need, we have a natural barrier, finding the children who need us.

Yes, there are common indicators for kids who are struggling. Things like disruptive behaviors and declining grades are hallmark red flags for kids who need more help, the truth is that waiting until the problems are obvious can waste the precious little time we have for making a difference.

Universal screening is a process that educators have used for years, academically, to identify children who need additional support. But when it comes to social and emotional needs, the process of assuring that all students get the help they need can be daunting. The results help you identify the needs of students, which students need support and can give you what every administrator loves, DATA to justify the time or resources you need to do great work.

I’ve personally had great success with minute meetings, brief interviews where a few select questions are answered by all students looking for the children whose responses indicate that a little more time with them is needed. But for a more holistic approach, the following tools will give you some standardized means to create a strategy for helping your students.


Primarily designed for the recognition of depressive symptoms, this simple form can also identify children at risk of depression. This information is helpful to use as a discussion starter and when considering overall needs of the student body. This can be used with children adolescent and older and only takes a few minutes to complete and score.


The Strengths and Difficulties gives more in depth information for the emotions and behaviors of children, teens and young adults. Common concerns such as ADHD and depression can be evidenced in this questionnaire as well. There is a minimal cost involved in scoring, but it is well worth the information gained.

ACE questionnaire

The Adverse Childhood Experiences survey has been used for decades and has given researchers some of our best data on trauma in this country. This asks fairly detailed questions and can be a critical in determining often unseen needs in children who are experiencing the effects of trauma or chronic stress. This is largely available for free and can be completed and scored in a very brief period of time.

Do you use universal screening? Share your favorite tools in the comments below.