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Thomas Achenbach

During the 1960's and 1970's, Dr. Thomas Achenbach developed the Child Behavior Checklist in an attempt to provide a method of empirically assessing problematic behavior in children . Prior to this time, there were no instruments available that were based on children’s behaviors.  Most of the diagnostic tools in use relied on techniques based on adult behaviors and symptoms. Achenbach’s innovative approach indicates a general philosophy that recognizes that children may experience psychopathology in a way that is somehow different from the manner in which adults experience the phenomenon. Thomas AchenbachIt also suggests that parents and additional significant others such as teachers can provide valuable information regarding children’s potential symptomology. Achenbach has demonstrated a basic belief that assessment tools and interpretations should be based in solid empirical research. This particular tool allows for quantification of operationally defined behaviors rather than subjective reports of children’s problems. The purpose of the Achenbach measure is to distinguish children who have problems from those who do not have problems . According to the manual, the purpose of the Child Behavior Checklist is not to make inferences regarding specific diagnoses . Rather, it should be used to establish standardized descriptions of behavior.  

Consequently, the objectivity of this empirical and research-based instrument promotes unbiased assessment of children’s behaviors in order to facilitate assistance to the practitioner as she or he attempts to make accurate and fair diagnoses. In fact, in the development of the CBCL, great care was taken to ensure that gender and racial distributions of subjects approximated those percentages found in the general population. Data from a population of 1300 children, none of whom had received mental health services in the previous twelve months, established norms for the CBCL . While this number appears small with regard to most normalization samples, Achenbach and his associates have conscientiously and repeatedly analyzed this instrument to ensure that it remains current with regard to recently published research findings.

The Child Behavior Checklist is an instrument that primarily obtains empirical information from parents regarding their daughter’s or son’s quality of behavior in areas such as school, social interactions, and general child behaviors.  Composed of 118 items, this measure asks parents to indicate whether a behavior is true of their child using a three point rating scale. A score of zero is given if the child never exhibits that particular behavior, one if the child somewhat or sometimes exhibits that behavior, and two if the child often exhibits that behavior. Thus, the CBCL assesses behavioral problems and social competencies of children aged four to sixteen. In addition to the CBCL, there is an associated assessment instrument for teachers called the Teacher’s Report Form, a Direct Observation Form, and a scale to be completed by older children, ages 11-18, called the Youth Self-Report Form.

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