CHILD BEHAVIOR CHECKLIST (Social Science)

The Child Behavior Checklist for Ages 6 to 18 (CBCL/6—18) is a standardized questionnaire for assessing children’s behavioral, emotional, and social problems and competencies. It can be self-administered by parent figures or administered by interviewers. A version for ages one-and-a-half to five years (CBCL/1.5—5) assesses language development as well as problems. These questionnaires are components of the Achenbach System of Empirically Based Assessment (ASEBA). The ASEBA also includes questionnaires completed by preschool teachers and daycare providers (for ages one-and-a-half to five), school teachers (for ages six to eighteen), youths (ages eleven to eighteen), clinical interviewers, observers, and psychological test administrators. Additional ASEBA questionnaires are available for assessing adults (ages eighteen to fifty-nine and sixty to ninety-plus). Because behavior may vary from one situation to another, the different questionnaires are designed to capture both the similarities and differences in behavior across different situations, as seen by different people.

Starting in the 1960s, psychologist Thomas Achenbach began developing the ASEBA to provide practical, low-cost measures of problems and competencies for clinical and research purposes. Statistical analyses of ASEBA questionnaires have identified syndromes of problems that are scored on profiles. The profiles display an individual’s scores on syndrome scales in relation to norms for peers of the same age and gender. Examples of syndromes include attention problems, aggressive behavior, anxiety/depression, and social problems. Additional scales are provided for scoring broad groupings of problems designated as internalizing (problems within the self) and externalizing (conflicts with others and with social mores).


ASEBA forms are also scored on DSM-oriented scales that consist of problems identified by international panels of experts as being consistent with diagnostic categories of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV, 1994). Examples of DSM-oriented scales scored for ages six to eighteen include anxiety problems, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity problems, oppositional defiant problems, and conduct problems.

ASEBA questionnaires have been translated into over seventy-five languages. Their use has been reported in some six thousand publications from sixty-seven countries. The publications span hundreds of topics, such as child abuse, adoption, aggression, bullying, anxiety, asthma, autism, cancer, cross-cultural findings, delinquency, depression, diabetes, stress, substance abuse, suicidal behavior, and treatment. ASEBA questionnaires, lists of translations, research summaries, and other information can be obtained at the ASEBA Web site. Computer programs are available for scoring all ASEBA questionnaires. The programs compare reports by different people (e.g., mother, father, youth, teachers) via side-by-side displays of scores obtained from each form that was completed for the individual who is being assessed.

A multicultural computer program provides norms based on parent, teacher, and self-reports obtained for tens of thousands of children and youth from over thirty countries. This program enables users to compare individuals’ scores with norms for various groups of countries. It is valuable for assessing children residing in their own countries and also for assessing immigrant children living in host countries. A Web-based application enables users to transmit questionnaires electronically and respondents to complete questionnaires on the Web. The ASEBA is widely used in mental health services, schools, medical practices, child and family service agencies, health maintenance organizations, public health agencies, child guidance, training programs, and research.


No assessment instrument can tap every characteristic that might be potentially relevant to every individual in every culture. Consequently, people completing ASEBA questionnaires are invited to add problems and strengths not already listed and to provide open-ended descriptive information. Because no single source of data is sufficient for comprehensive assessment, users are urged to obtain data from multiple informants and multiple assessment procedures. Users are also advised that no scores on ASEBA scales should be automatically equated with particular diagnoses or disorders. Instead, users should integrate ASEBA data with other types of data to provide comprehensive evaluations of functioning.

Most ASEBA forms are designed to be self-administered by people having at least fifth-grade reading skills. However, for people who are unable to complete the self-administered forms independently, interviewers without specialized training can read the questions aloud and record the respondent’s answers. The Test Observation Form (TOF) and Semistructured Clinical Interview for Children and Adolescents (SCICA) require training in direct assessment of children. The Direct Observation Form (DOF) requires training in observation of children in group settings, such as classrooms. Interpretation of data from all ASEBA instruments requires training in standardized assessment equivalent to the master’s degree level in psychology, education, or related fields, or two years of residency in medical specialties such as psychiatry or pediatrics.

Critiques of ASEBA questionnaires have been published by Amanda Doss (2005), Robert McMahon and Paul Frick (2005), and Robert Spies and Barbara Plake (2005).

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