Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Differences in New Zealand Secondary School Students' Reported Strengths and Difficulties

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Differences in New Zealand Secondary School Students' Reported Strengths and Difficulties

Article excerpt

The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is a brief behavioural screening instrument designed to provide a profile of child and adolescent (3-17 year olds) behaviour, emotions and relationships (Goodman, 1994). Although utilised extensively in child and adolescent mental health (CAMHS) and health services in New Zealand, as yet there is no published data reporting psychometric properties of the SDQ in a New Zealand population (Merry et al., 2004)

This paper presents a secondary analysis of SDQ data collected as part of a larger study that tested a new youth alcohol and other drug (AOD) screening instrument, the Substances and Choices Scale (SACS)--see for more information (Christie et al., 2007). The SACS was designed to share a similar structure to the SDQ in light of the latter's high regard amongst CAMHS workers and its acceptability to young people and their families (including Maori rangatahi and whanau) (Merry, et al., 2004). The intention was for the SACS and SDQ to be used together to provide a broad overview of a young person's functioning across a range of domains.

The SDQ is a multiple informant instrument, useful for providing an overview of a children and adolescent's behaviour, focussing on their strengths as well as difficulties. The reliability and validity of the SDQ has been confirmed in a variety of settings and jurisdictions (Goodman, 1997; Goodman, 2001 ; Goodman, Ford, Simmons, Gatward, & Meltzer, 2000; Klasen et al., 2000; Mellor, 2005; Muris, Meester, & Van den Berg, 2003; Zwirs, Burger, Schulpen, & Buitelaar, 2006). Normative data for the SDQ has been widely reported in Britain and North America (Bourdon, Goodman, Rae, Simpson, & Koretz, 2005; Goodman, 1997; Goodman, 2001; Goodman, et al., 2000; Obel et al., 2004). Australian data is also available (Mellor, 2005) and may be seen by practitioners as most relevant for New Zealand services.

Test scores from other countries have been reported less often, although this is of interest as there is some evidence that SDQ scores may vary by ethnicity (Achenbach et al., 2008; Sagatun, Lien, Sogaard, Bjertness, & Heyerdahl, 2008; Woerner, Becker, & Rothenberger, 2004). Identification of ethnic differences in SDQ score, where such differences exist, may assist both health workers at the coalface and policy makers to better provide appropriate treatment for ethnic minorities in multiethnic societies (Zwirs, et al., 2006).

In this paper we report test results for the self-reported version of the SDQ as obtained from a sample of New Zealand secondary school students and examine possible differences in SDQ scores by ethnicity. Differences in SDQ scores related to age, gender and alcohol or cannabis use are also examined.


The SDQ questionnaire consists of twenty-five statements to which the response 'Certainly True', 'Somewhat True' or 'Definitely Not True' is scored from 0, 1 or 2. The 25 items are categorised into five scales measuring emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity/inattention, peer relationship problems, and prosocial behaviour, including helping, sharing and caring. These psychological attributes are either positively or negatively scored to generate a total 'difficulties' rating ranging from 0 to 40. On the self-reported version of the SDQ a total difficulties score in the 0-15 range is considered 'normal', a score in the 16-19 range 'borderline' and a score in the 20-40 range 'abnormal' as per the published website guidelines ( There are three versions of the SDQ: parent, teacher and self-report (11-17 year olds), the latter being the only version available for analysis in this study (Goodman, et al., 2000).

This original SACS study was approved by a Ministry of Health, Health and Disability Ethics Committee. Data from the psychometric testing stage of the SACS study (Christie, et al. …

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