Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)

When it comes to assessing a child’s social, emotional and mental health, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is a commonly used tool among education, children’s services, social care and health providers.

It was developed by Dr Robert Goodman in the 1990s for use with children and young people between the ages of 4 and 17. The tool has expanded to include a version for children between the ages of 2 to 4 and for adults aged 18+. There are versions which can be completed by parents or carers, teaching or support teams and young people themselves, allowing for a multi-informant perspective and insight.

The SDQ consists of 25 items that assess five domains of wellbeing: emotional problems, conduct, hyperactivity, peer problems, and prosocial behaviour. Each item is rated on a 3-point scale (not true, somewhat true, certainly true), and scores for each domain are calculated by summing the ratings for the relevant items. The SDQ also includes a brief impact supplement that assesses the degree to which the child’s difficulties are causing problems in the child’s life.

In recent years, the SDQ has been increasingly used in research studies and has been found to have good reliability and validity. The SDQ is considered a useful tool for professionals working in the field of child mental health, as it helps to identify children who may need further assessment and intervention. 

The key features of the SDQ are:

  • The SDQ is a brief questionnaire that can be completed by parents or carers, teaching or support teams and young people themselves
  • It assesses five domains of a child or young person’s mental health, including emotional problems, conduct, hyperactivity, peer problems, and prosocial behaviour
  • It consists of 25 items, each rated on a 3-point Likert scale (0 = not true, 1 = somewhat true, 2 = certainly true)
  • The SDQ also includes an impact supplement which assesses the level of impairment caused by the identified difficulties and a prosocial behaviour supplement which assesses the child’s positive behaviours
  • It can be used with children between the ages of 2-17 years, as well as adults aged 18+, making it suitable for a wide age range
  • The SDQ provides scores for each of the five domains, as well as a total difficulties score, which can be used to identify children who may be at risk for mental health problems
  • It is available in multiple languages and culturally adapted versions, making it accessible to a diverse population
  • The SDQ also has been widely validated and has been found to have good reliability and validity in various cultures and populations

The frequency at which practitioners should administer the SDQ can vary depending on the specific context of the individual. But, in general, the SDQ should be completed at least twice a year for each child. This allows for tracking of changes in behaviour over time. Research studies have also shown that the annual administration of the SDQ is effective in identifying social, emotional and mental health needs in children.

It is also recommended to use the SDQ as a baseline measure before an intervention or treatment, and then re-administer the questionnaire at regular intervals during and after the intervention to track progress.

It is important to note that the SDQ should not be used as a standalone tool, as it can provide only a limited picture of a child’s wellbeing. To get a more accurate understanding of a child’s mental health, it’s recommended to use a variety of screening assessment tools alongside the SDQ, which focus on more specific areas of need.

The key benefits of using the SDQ as a screening tool for children and young people’s mental health are:

  • The SDQ is a widely used, recognised and validated tool for assessing the mental health of children, young people and adults
  • It provides a quick and easy way for parents, teachers and other caregivers to screen for potential social, emotional and mental health needs
  • The SDQ can also be used to identify strengths and positive attributes in children, which can help to promote resilience and wellbeing
  • It is a brief measure, taking only a few minutes to complete, which makes it well-suited to busier settings and practitioners with higher caseloads
  • It is also available in different languages and culturally adapted versions, making it accessible to a diverse population
  • The SDQ provides scores across the five domains which allows for a more comprehensive and holistic assessment of the child
  • The results of the SDQ can be used to guide interventions and treatment planning for children with mental health needs

If you work with children, young people or adults with social, emotional and mental health needs and want to get started using the SDQ. Please click here to find the SDQ resources to get started.

Using the SDQ is free and the copyright of the tool belongs to Dr Robert Goodman and YouthinMind.

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