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Assessing social and emotional skills of children and youth in Portuguese is now easier

A team of researchers from Iscte-University Institute of Lisbon and University of Coimbra adapted and validated a Portuguese version of the survey on Social and Emotional skills for children and youth. The tool can be used by community and educational professionals to monitor skill development.

Photo courtesy of the researchers

“Starting from a young age, people develop their social and emotional skills through a process called social-emotional learning”, explains the first author of this research, Catarina Castro, who is a student from the Doctoral Program in Psychology at Iscte. Through this process, a child acquires crucial knowledge, attitudes, and abilities to manage their emotions and interpersonal relationships, including feeling and showing empathy for others, and making responsible decisions.

The social and emotional skills of children and adolescents have gained importance in educational and community settings, namely in the expected skills of Portuguese students leaving compulsory education. Given this policy priority, the Portuguese Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation co-founded the Gulbenkian Academies for Knowledge, a set of community- or school-based projects to develop and support innovative solutions for complex societal problems, including the development of social and emotional competencies of children and youth. These Academies provided the perfect opportunity to explore the development of such skills.

The recently published study in Frontiers in Psychology aimed to validate the Portuguese version of the instrument so that professionals in Portugal can use evidence-based instruments in their practice. Many times, some of these instruments are not available in different languages and may be subject to cultural and contextual differences. “It is important that professionals have assessment and intervention tools that are scientifically validated and adapted to the population they work with. Here, we did just that”, Joana Alexandre, researcher at the Centre for Psychological Research and Social Intervention (CIS-Iscte) and Catarina Castro supervisor, highlighted.

“The Survey on Social and Emotional Skills, namely its Child/Youth form, was developed as a comprehensive measure for a large set of social and emotional skills, anchored in a sound, common theoretical framework”, says Clara Barata, second author of the study and a researcher at University of Coimbra. The instrument was administered to participants in the Gulbenkian Academies for Knowledge and, according to the results of the study, its Portuguese adaptation revealed to be well adjusted to use in the Portuguese context. For the experts, analyses showed good internal consistency and sensitivity to change over time. Based on the results of the study, Carla Colaço, last author of the paper, says “we suggest that social and emotional learning interventions should have a culturally responsive approach”. Results also suggested that age is one of the most relevant individual characteristics to impact social and emotional skills.

The study's results contribute to proving the utility of this measure for educational and community practitioners to inform and guide their works on social and emotional skills with a varied set of participants, adequately measuring their needs and their strengths. “Our findings have the potential to inform and improve social and emotional learning interventions in educational and community settings, ultimately benefiting children and youth across the country”, Catarina Castro concludes.

© 2021 Yan Krukau | Pexels

Social-emotional learning has been a research interest of the CIS-Iscte researcher Joana Alexandre, who has been working with multidisciplinary teams. Recently, the researcher collaborated in a study that tested the “Intergalactic World” social-emotional program, developed to reduce psychopathological symptoms and improve social and emotional skills in 8-to-12-year-olds. “Albeit with no control group, teachers and caregivers reported a reduction of internalizing and externalizing behaviors in children, showing the potential of training social-emotional skills through programs such as this one.”, Joana Alexandre explains, highlighting the need for a randomized control trial design for future research. Rita Antunes (Lusíada University of Lisbon; CUF Descobertas Hospital; WJCR-Ispa), Maryse Guedes (WJCR-Ispa), Marisa G. Filipe (University of Lisbon) and Manuela Veríssimo (Iscte) were the other researchers involved.

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