Tools for measuring outcomes for children and families Our experiences of using standardised measures in the evaluation of our services

We use different tools when carrying out evaluations, so we can measure what works for children and families. These tools, also known as standardised measures, assess a specific characteristic or concept, such as self-esteem or stress. We use standardised measures in lots of our research to see if we have made a difference in the services that we provide to protect children and prevent abuse and neglect.

We've outlined our experiences of using each tool, along with details of what it measures and how easy it is to use.

Parenting measurement tools

This tool measures parental mood. The scale is designed to assess depression, anxiety, and inward and outward irritability. Each subscale includes a cut off scores that might indicate a problem in each area. However, as with any measure, interpretation of results should take place in the context of other information.

It's based on the Irritability, Depression and Anxiety Scale (Snaith et al, 1978) and was widely available, being part of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (Department of Health, 2000). 

Use with: Adults.

Time required: The measure takes between 10 and 15 minutes to administer and then approximately 10 minutes to score.

Training/expertise required: None specified but the Framework for Assessment assumes use by social work practitioners.

Validity and reliability: Recently, Pepping, Dawe and Harnett (2013) have questioned the psychometric properties of the subscales and suggest "At best a total score may be used as an indicator of 'overall psychological distress'".

Cost: Free. Available in the archived Framework for the assessment of children in need and their families (Department of Health, 2000).

Our experience

We have used this tool to measure the wellbeing of the current and former partners of men were attending Caring Dads, a fathering programme for domestically abusive or neglectful fathers. For further information contact Nicola McConnell.

This scale measures protective parenting. It's made up of 160 items that include:

  • 3 attitudinal domains - distress, rigidity and unhappiness
  • 3 relationship domains - problems with child and self, problems with family and problems from others
  • 2 special scales – there's no normative data on these - to measure the ego strength and level of loneliness of parents.

The measure also has 3 validity scales to detect parents who may distort their responses in a socially desirable manner or answer questions in a random or inconsistent manner.

Use with: Male or female parents or primary caregivers who may possess a risk factor to protecting their child.

Time required: Between 30 and 45 minutes to administer.

Training or expertise required: None required for use in evaluation except in managing any distress caused to participants.

Validity and reliability: The measure has good reliability and validity and is widely used in research and clinical settings.

Cost: $170 for 100 test booklets. Available from PAR.

Our experience

We use CAPI in our FEDUP and Family SMILES service evaluations – although we're not using this measure to predict abuse. FEDUP and Family SMILES work with children where there is already a concern or worry about the vulnerability of the child. CAPI's strength is that it effectively quantifies the 6 domains (subscales) to evaluate protective parenting. However, the questionnaire length and some outdated language used in questions have been barriers to engaging parents and meant challenges in ensuring good evaluation returns.For more information contact Prakash Fernandes.

The GCP scale was developed as a practical tool to give an objective measure of the care of children across all areas of need where there are concerns about neglect. It draws on the concept of a continuum of care rather than categorising it as neglectful or non-neglectful. There are 5 grades, which are based on 3 different factors: the level of care, commitment to care and the quality of care. The grades are applied to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: physical, safety, love and belongingness and esteem.

Developed and owned by Dr Prakash Srivastava, Luton Safeguarding Board.

Use with: All children from birth to 16.

Time required: This varies depending on how the tool is being used. It’s commonly administered during several visits across a number of weeks. However it can also be used in 1 or 2 sessions. The developers of the tool carried out field testing and found the mean time for scoring was 20 minutes (Srivastava and Polnay, 1997).

Training or expertise required: Anyone who has a good understanding of child development, safeguarding and child protection systems can undertake a GCP. For example:

  • children centre workers
  • health visitors, school nurses, nursery nurses
  • education welfare officers
  • social workers, Cafcass
  • teachers, nursery nurses, family support workers.

Validity and reliability: The tool’s developers carried out testing of the first version of the tool in 1997 and a found a high level of inter-rater agreement across all domains. We’re currently testing the reliability and validity of the second version of the GCP. Results are expected in Summer 2015.

Cost: The tool is available free of charge. Available from Luton Safeguarding Board

Our experience

Graded Care Profile is used across a number of Local Authorities. Some of our practitioners have been using it for the last 4 years as part of our evaluation of the tool. Interim findings suggest the tool is helpful in a number of ways, although there were issues with some of the language. For further information contact Robyn Johnson or Dawn Hodson.

There are a number of versions of NCFAS which include different domains, of which there are 10 in total. The NCFAS-G is recommended by the National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) for use with intact families. It was developed as a broad based family assessment tool to address general service needs of all families not just families in crisis. The NCFAS-G incorporates 8 domains which are:

  • environment
  • parental capabilities
  • family interactions
  • family safety
  • child well-being
  • social/community life
  • self-sufficiency
  • health.

Developed and owned by National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) in collaboration with Dr Ray Kirk.

Use with: Families in general.

Time required: However long the practitioner takes to complete the measure.

Training or expertise required: None specified although the measure tends to be used by social work practitioners.

Validity and reliability: NCFAS has good evidence of reliability and validity. The California Evidence-Based Clearing house for Child Welfare gives NCFAS its highest rating for assessment tools – “2A Reliability and Validity Demonstrated” – based on the available published and peer reviewed research (2009).

In 2006, the Bay Area Social Services Consortium Research Team at Berkeley reviewed 85 assessment tools and found the NCFAS and NCFAS-R to be among the most comprehensive and promising for child welfare practise (Johnson et al, 2008). Internal consistency and construct validity have been established and the instrument is able to detect changes in functioning over time. It also appears to have some degree of predictive validity in relation to placement prevention.

Cost: The cost is based on the number of people using the tool. Available from National Family Preservation Network (NFPN).

Our experience

Although the tool hasn’t been validated in the UK there’s no evidence to suggest that it’s not appropriate for a UK audience. We have successfully used the measure as part of the evaluation of SafeCare to provide a comprehensive assessment of family functioning. We made some adaptations to the scale definitions to reflect the UK context, with the agreement of NFPN. These largely related to subscales which assessed access to weapons in the home and family connection to neighbourhood, cultural/ethnic and/or belief communities.


This tool measures the parenting stress of parents of children aged 0 to 12 years. The Parenting Stress Index (PSI) Short Form is derived from the full-length version of the questionnaire and consists of a 36-item. It provides a Total Stress score from 3 scales:

  • Parental Distress
  • Parent-Child Dysfunctional Interaction
  • Difficult Child.

A revised 4th Edition is now available.

Developed by Richard R. Abidin and owned by PAR.

Use with: Parents of children aged 0 to 12 years.

Time required: The measure takes between 15 and 20 minutes to administer and then approximately 10 minutes to score.

Training or expertise required: The professional manual for the Parenting Stress Index states that: “The PSI can be administered and scored by individuals who do not have formal training in clinical psychology, counselling psychology, school psychology, social work or related fields”. However the interpretation of PSI scores requires: “graduate training in clinical, counselling, or educational psychology or in social work or related fields” (Abidin, 1995 p.3).

Validity and reliability: Widely used measure validated for use with a variety of international populations.

Cost: 3rd Edition questionnaires cost £58 for pack of 25. The 4th Edition introductory kit including manual and forms is £190. Available in the UK from Ann Arbor Publishers.

Our experience

We’ve used this tool to measure the parenting stress of fathers attending Caring Dads: Safer Children a fathering programme for domestically abusive or neglectful fathers. Our evaluation indicated that the improvements following the service were statistically significant. For further information contact Nicola McConnell.

The Parental Locus of Control (PLOC) measures the degree to which parents feel they have some control over their child’s behaviour.

Locus of control refers to the extent that individuals believe that they can control events that affect them. Parental locus of control is specifically about what impact they feel their parenting has on their child’s adjustment or behaviour.

A parent who had an internal locus of control would believe that their parenting has an impact their child’s behaviour. If they parent well their child will be better adjusted and well-behaved.

A parent with an external locus would feel less confident in their ability to influence their child. Parents with an external locus of control would be more likely to believe that their child’s behaviour is determined by his or her own characteristics and isn’t something that their parenting can affect.

5 factors are measured:

  • parental efficacy
  • parental responsibility
  • child control of parents’ life
  • parental belief in fate/chance
  • parental control of child’s behaviour.

Developed and owned by Leslie K. Campis, Robert D. Lyman and Steven Prentice-Dunn.

Use with: Parents of primary school aged children.

Time required: The measure takes approximately 15 minutes to complete and 10 minutes to score.

Training or expertise required: None specified.

Validity and reliability: The test was validated by its authors (Campis, Lyman and Prentis-Dunn, 1986). It was also found reliable by Hagekull and colleagues (Hagekull, Bohlin, and Hammarberg, 2001).

Cost: Freely available. Questions detailed in: Campis, Lyman and Prentis-Dunn, 1986.

Our experience

We have used a shorter version of the parental locus of control scale for the last 3 years to evaluate Domestic Abuse, Recovering Together (DART), a service that works with mothers who have experienced domestic abuse. We only use 2 factors when evaluating DART – parental efficacy and parental control of child’s behaviour. For further information contact Emma Smith.

This questionnaire is about self-esteem. It comprises of a list of 10 statements. Participants are asked to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree with each. Total scores are out of a possible 30 points. Higher scores reflect a higher sense of self-esteem.

Developed by Dr Manny Rosenberg and owned by University of Maryland.

Use with: Adults.

Time required: The measure takes about 5 minutes to complete.

Training or expertise required: There are no specific requirements needed to administer the Rosenberg.

Validity and reliability: The scale has high reliability.

Cost: Free. Available from Department of Sociology, University of Maryland.

Our experience

The Rosenberg has generally been an easy scale to administer and for parents to respond to. For further information contact Emma Smith.

Children's wellbeing measurement tools

This tool measures a range of physical, personal and social problems associated with the mental health of children and young people.

Part A consists of 13 items about the child and covers 4 subsections:

  • behavioural problems
  • impairment
  • symptomatic problems
  • social problems.

Part B consists of 2 optional scales which are completed by the practitioner. It explores problems for the parent or carer related to a lack of information or access to services

Developed by S.G. Gowers, R.C. Harrington, A. Whitton, A.S. Beevor, P. Lelliott, J.K. Wing, R. Jezzard and owned by University of Liverpool.

Use with: Children and young people under the age of 18.

Time required: The measure takes about 10 minutes to complete.

Training or expertise required: A Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services practitioner who has received training on the HoNOSCA would be able to administer it in practice. It may be used more broadly, for non-assessment purposes, by practitioners who work with children for administrative and research purposes.

Validity and reliability: The measure has good validity and is sensitive to change.

Cost: Free. Available from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Our experience

Our practitioners have incorporated the HoNOSCA into their post-session debriefs, where used as part of the evaluation of the service that they deliver. It has enabled practitioners to find a way to quantify their perception of the wellbeing of the child that they have been working with. Training has been important for allowing practitioners to practice using the measure before completing it with children they work with. For further information contact Prakash Fernandes or Rachel Margolis.

This tool measures emotional and behavioural problems. It assesses child positive and negative attributes across 5 scales:

  • emotional symptoms
  • conduct problems
  • hyperactivity-inattention
  • peer problems
  • prosocial behaviour.

The measure also yields a Total Difficulties score. The SDQ is completed by parents or teachers in parallel versions. A child self-report version, for young people aged 11 to 17 years is also available.

It has been translated into over 40 languages. An extended version is available and includes an impact supplement that asks if the respondent thinks the young person has a problem, and if so, inquires about chronicity, distress, social impairment, and burden for others.

Developed by Robert Goodman and owned by Youth in Mind.

Use with: Children and young people from 3 to 17.

Time needed: The measure takes about 10 minutes to complete.

Training or expertise required: None.

Validity and reliability: The SDQ has been extensively researched with various populations and has good validity and reliability (see the SDQ website for further information).

Cost: Free to use. Available from the SDQ website.

Our experience

We've used the SDQ extensively across several evaluations,  including Improving parenting, improving practice and Turn the Page. Practitioners have found it easy to administer and the self-report results have been helpful in identifying issue for the young person to work on. The norms have been useful in interpreting changes reported for young people at the end of the programme. For further information contact Paul Whalley.

This tool measures trauma. The scale is made up of 54 items and includes:

  • 2 validity scales - underresponse and hyperresponse
  • 6 clinical scales - anxiety, depression, anger, posttraumatic stress, dissociation and sexual concerns.

There are also 8 critical items, which indicate whether there are concerns present that require an immediate response.

Developed by John Briere and owned by PAR.

Use with: Children and young people aged 8-16 years without learning disabilities.

Time needed: The measure takes between 15 and 20 minutes to administer and then 5 to 10 minutes to score.

Training or expertise required: A degree from an accredited 4-year course at a college or university in psychology, counselling, or a closely related field. Plus the completion of coursework in test interpretation, psychometrics and measurement theory, educational statistics, or a closely related area.

Validity and reliability: The measure has good reliability and validity and is widely used in research and clinical settings.

Cost: $70 for 25 test booklets. Available in the UK from Ann Arbor Publishers.

Our experience

Our practitioners have widely used the TSCC as part of their assessment of need for children and young people as well as being used as an evaluation measure in Letting the Future In and Turn the Page. It's seen as useful and relatively quick to administer. The tool does require an understanding of trauma to interpret and use within a clinical setting as the scores on particular sub-scales cannot always be taken at face value. For further information contact Matt Barnard.

Impact and evidence

Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.
Impact and evidence

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  1. Abidin, R.R. (1995) The Parenting Stress Index thired edition: professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

  2. California Evidence-Based Clearing house for Child Welfare (CEBC) (2009, reviewed 2015) North Carolina Family Assessment Scale (NCFAS). San Diego: California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBC).

  3. Campis, L.K., Lyman, R.D. and Prentice-Dunn, S. (1986) The Parental Locus of Control Scale: development and validation. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 15(3): 260-267.

  4. Department of Health (DH), Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) and Home Office (2000) Framework for the assessment of children in need and their families (PDF). London: TheStationery Office (TSO).

  5. Hagekull, B., Bohlin, G., and Hammarberg, A. (2001) The role of perceived parental control in child development: a longitudinal study. The International Journal of Behavioral Development, 25(5): 429-437.

  6. Johnson, M.A., Stone, S., Lou, C., Vu, C., Ling, J., Mizrahi, P., and Austin, M. (2008) Family assessment in child welfare services: instrument comparisons. Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work, 5(1/2): 57-90.

  7. Pepping, C.A., Dawe, S., and Harnett, P.H. (2013) Using the Assessment Framework to measure parental mood: an investigation of the reliability of the Adult Well‐Being Scale. Child & Family Social Work. Early online view: 1-11.

  8. Snaith, R.P., Constantopoulos, A.A., Jardine, M.Y. and McGuffin, P. (1978) A clinical scale for the self-assessment of irritability. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 132(2): 164-171.

  9. Srivastava, O. and Polmay, L. (1997) Field trial of graded care profile (GCP) scale: a new measure of care. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 76(4): 337-340.