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  • Quality Improvement Article
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Parental mental health screening in the NICU: a psychosocial team initiative



About 40–50% of parents with children admitted to Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) experience clinically significant levels of depression, anxiety, and trauma. Poor parental mental health can negatively influence parent–child interactions and child development. Therefore, early identification of parents at-risk for clinical distress is of paramount importance.


To address this need, the psychosocial team, including psychology and psychiatry, at a large, level 4 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) developed a quality-improvement initiative to assess the feasibility of screening parents and to determine rates of depression and trauma in the unit.


About 40% of mothers and 20% of fathers were screened between 2 weeks of their child’s hospitalization. About 40–45% of those parents endorsed clinically significant levels of depression and anxiety symptoms.


Recommendations for enhancing the feasibility and effectiveness of this process are discussed and considerations for future clinical and research endeavors are introduced.

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Fig. 1: Flow of screening protocol.

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The authors wish to thank Christina DiSanza, MS, Arianna Albanese, MS, and Gaby Russo, MS for their contributions in collecting mental health information from parents and gathering sociodemographics from baby’s medical charts. We also want to extend our sincere gratitude to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Social Work team, including Monica Straszewski, MSW, Ali Pomar, MSW, LSW, Lindsey Kunkel, MSW, LCSW, Ma Luisa Hasiuk, MSW, LCSW, Meredith Huber, MSW, LSW, and Jill Scott, MSW, LCSW, for their support with implementation and follow-up assessments with N/IICU parents.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



VG contributed to QI design, study coordination, data collection and led data analyses, data interpretation, and paper writing. PG contributed to QI design, study oversight, data interpretation, and paper writing. CH contributed to QI design, study oversight, data collection, data interpretation, and paper writing. WN contributed to QI design, study oversight, data interpretation, and paper writing. AA contributed to data collection, data analyses, data interpretation, and paper writing. CP contributed to QI design, study oversight, data collection, data interpretation, and paper writing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Victoria A. Grunberg.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Ethics approval

This QI initiative was reviewed and determined exempt (did not meet the criteria for requiring human subjects research) by the hospital’s Institutional Review Board. Reasons given were as follows: the project is consistent with the institution’s definition of a quality-improvement program, the parents were not patients of the institution, risk was seen as minimal, and all data were de-identified.

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Grunberg, V.A., Geller, P.A., Hoffman, C. et al. Parental mental health screening in the NICU: a psychosocial team initiative. J Perinatol 42, 401–409 (2022).

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