The utility of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire as a screening measure among children and adolescents who light fires.


Background: This pilot study examined the utility of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) as a standardised screening tool for behavioural and psychosocial problems by fire service-based programmes to identify at-risk young firesetters who are in need of further comprehensive multiagency intervention. Method: SDQ scores were obtained from 57 children and adolescents, aged 6-17 years, who were referred to the Fire Awareness and Intervention Programme in New Zealand for firesetting behaviour. Scores from firesetters aged 13-17 years were compared to those of typically developing New Zealand secondary school students. Results: Overall, young firesetters were at a high risk of clinically significant conduct and hyperactivity/inattention difficulties, and at low risk of clinically significant emotional problems. Cronbach’s alphas for most SDQ subscales were acceptable. Conclusions: We recommend that the SDQ be considered by fire service-operated interventions for use as an additional assessment tool for the young firesetting population. Key Practitioner Messages: 1. Due to its financial and emotional cost, deliberate firesetting by children and adolescents is a significant concern for communities. 2. There appears to be significant comorbidity between firesetting and serious antisocial behaviour, and many young firesetters engage in ongoing general offending behaviour. 3. Intervention for child and adolescent firesetters is predominantly provided by fire services and typically involves fire safety education. 4. Given the co-morbid behavioural and psychosocial problems present among young firesetters, there is a need for fire service education programmes to use a standardised assessment tool that screens for wider behavioural and psychosocial difficulties to assist in the identification and referral of high-risk young people to appropriate services for further intervention. 5. The SDQ, a free, short and well-validated measure, could be adopted by fire service-operated education programmes to help detect and inform the referral of young firesetters who need more comprehensive multiagency intervention.