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Type of Measure:
The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is a one-page behavioural screening questionnaire that assesses the prosocial behavior and psychopathology of 4-17 year old youth, which may be completed by parents, teachers, or self-report. It exists in several versions to meet the needs of researchers, clinicians and educationalists. Accordingly, the SDQ can be used for screening, as part of a clinical assessment, as a treatment-outcome measure, and as a research tool. It asks about 25 attributes, some positive and others negative; respondents use a 3-point Likert scale to indicate how far each attribute applies to the target child. The 25 items are divided between five scales of five items each, generating scores for emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity-inattention, peer problems, and prosocial behavior; all but the last are summed to generate a total difficulties score. Extended versions of the SDQ are available for those interested in psychiatric caseness and the determinants of service use. The extended verions include the 25 core items plus a brief impact supplement that asks whether the respondent thinks that the child or youth has a problem, and if so, inquires further about overall distress, social impairment, burden, and chronicity.

Target Population: Youth ages 4 to 17

Measurement properties and previous use:
Goodman and Scott (1999) established that correlations between the internalizing and externalizing scales were lower for the SDQ than for the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; Achenbach, 1991); this finding raises the possibility that the SDQ scales were “purer” and less “contaminated” by one another. Additionally, the study showed that as judged against an interview with parents, the SDQ was significantly better than the CBCL at detecting inattention and hyperactivity and at least as good at detecting internalizing and externalizing problems. Despite its brevity, the SDQ was reportedly is also significantly better than the CBCL at predicting a clinical diagnosis of a hyperactivity disorder (Klasen et al., 2000).

Within a sampple of 10,438 children, Goodman (2001) confirmed and extended previous reports of satisfactory reliability and validity based on studies of smaller community and clinic samples from around the world. Factor analyses showed that nearly all items loaded primarily, and usually exclusively, on the predicted five factors, covering emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity-inattention, peer problems, and prosocial behavior. The predicted five-factor structure fitted the findings particularly well for the parent SDQ. There was very little overlap between the items loading on the internalizing scale (Emotional Symptoms) and the two externalizing scales (Conduct Problems and Hyperactivity-Inattention). Goodman (2001) reported that the internal consistencies of the SDQ were generally satisfactory. Interrater agreement for the SDQ was, for the most part, substantially better than the average level of agreement reported for other measures (such as the CBCL). The interrater correlations for the total difficulties score were almost twice the meta-analytic means, reflecting almost four time the shared variance, which the test developer attributed to the larger re-test window (4 to 6 months later). The validity of the SDQ was gauged by how strongly the various scales were associated with the presence or absence of psychiatric disorders. High SDQ scores (in the extreme 10% of the population) were associated with a substantial increase in psychiatric risk, with odds ratios of approximately 15 for parent and teacher SDQ scales and approximately 6 for self-report SDQ scales. When applied to a community sample, the proportion of true negatives is high (specificities and negative predictive values around 95%) but the proportion of true positives is substantially lower (sensitivities and positive predictive values around 35%). This sort of overinclusiveness is often acceptable in screening tests, in which the first priority is generally to reduce the rate of false negatives even if this is at the cost of increasing the rate of false positives. However, the author notes that the screening properties reported in this article are all based on individual scores derived from single informants (for full discussion, see Goodman, 2001).

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Authors and Citation:
Goodman, R. (2001). Psychometric properties of the strengths and difficulties questionnaire. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(11), 1337-1345.

Goodman, R., Meltzer, H., & Bailey, V. (1998). The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire: A pilot study on the validity of the self-report version. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 7(3), 125-130.

Klasen, H., Woerner, W., Wolke, D., Meyer, R., Overmeyer, S., Kaschnitz, W., … & Goodman, R. (2000). Comparing the German versions of the strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ-Deu) and the child behavior checklist. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 9(4), 271-276.

Licence: This measure is freely available online, and may be used along with proper citiation.

Link to measure: Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)

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