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ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a clinically diagnosed psychiatric condition characterised by problems in paying and maintaining attention, hyperactive and impulsive behaviour and difficulties in managing moods.  These symptoms must begin between the ages of six and 12 and be present for more than six months for a diagnosis of ADHD to be made.  ADHD is highly associated with poor school performance and behavioural problems.

antisocial behaviour: refers to a range of purposeful behaviours aimed at harrassing, alarming or frightening other people. Examples of antisocial behaviours include noise nuisance, graffiti, property theft and damage, buying and selling illegal drugs, vehicle crime and rubbish dumping.  

attachment theory: is a scientfically supported theory of early child development put forward by John Bowlby and initially supported by research conducted by Mary Ainsworth. Bowlby originally observed that 'the propensity to make storng emotional bonds to a particular individual is a basic component of human nature' and advantageous for a baby's survival. Bowlby referrred to this bond as the child's attachment and observed that sensitive and predictable caregiving behaviours facilitated a secure attachment relationship. A secure attachment relaitonship, in turn, creates the context in which children can learn how to optimally regulate their emotions and develop positive expectations of themselves and others. The research of Mary Ainsworth observed that approximately 70% of all children can be classified as securely attached.  A secure attachment measured when the child is between nine and 12 months has been consistently associated with positive child outcomes as children mature.

attribution (in psychological theory):  is the process by which individuals explain or attribute causality to the behaviours, feelings and attitudes of others, as well as to events.


benefit-cost analysis: see cost benefit analysis.

benefit realisation: is a continuous process of monitoring the progress of financial and non-financial benefits of a programme or project.  This is done by monitoring predetermined improvements (outputs and outcomes) on a real-time basis and making adjustments accordingly.

bonds: are close relationships between family memebers, including emotional and physical attachment.


clearing house:  an organisation which collects and distributes information. A 'What Works' clearing house is an organisation that collects and disseminates information about the effectiveness of programmes, systems and practices in terms of the strength of their evidence.

coercive parent-child interaction: is a term developed by Gerry Patterson to refer to interactions between parents and children where parents inadvertently reinforce negative child behaviours by either fighting with their child (resulting in increased attention) or giving into child demands.

coded observation: is a data collection methodology by which researchers watch and code human behaviours against predetermined rating scales that assign a value or category to specific behaviours (e.g. smiling, touching, hitting, etc.). 

cortisol: Cortisol is a steroid hormone which is released by the body in response to stress.

cognitive behavioural therapy: is an umbrella term for a collection of therapeutic methods that provide people with mental strategies for managing their thoughts, moods and feelings.

conduct disorder:  refer to a range of behavioral difficulties involving non-compliance, aggression and the violation of the rules of family and society.

control group: (also referred to as comparison group) is a set of study participants not receiving the intervention under investigation. They may instead be given either a placebo or no treatment.

cost-benefit analysis: A method of economic evaluation (also referred to as benefit-cost analysis) that analyses the economic worth of a project (intervention) or investment in terms of its potential for financial return. Cost-benefit analysis does this by quantifying in monetary terms the costs of a project and comparing them to their monetary benefits. Cost-benefit analysis involves three steps: 1) determine the benefits of a proposed or existing program and place monetary value on those benefits; (2) calculate the total costs of the program; (3) compare the benefits and the costs.  The result is often expressed in terms of a 'net benefit' ratio or return on expenditure.

cost-effectiveness analysis: A method of economic evaluation similar to cost-benefit analysis that calculates the monetary value of all project costs, but compares them to specific, non-monetary programme objectives. Cost-effectiveness analysis is often an initial step in cost-benefit analysis. More information about the difference between cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis applied to programme evaluation can be found here.

cross-sectional (design): research methods that involves observation or measurement of differentiated study groups at the same point or points in time. Often used to study developmental trends and delayed outcomes by observing subjects differentiated by age. Conclusions drawn must take into consideration the assumption that groups are otherwise similarly matched.


delinquent/delinquency: committing a crime, typically a minor, or non-violent crime. Can also refer to school truancy and non-compliant behaviour at school.

dose/dosage: the amount and intensity of an intervention or practice.


ecological model: theory that emphasizes the impact of multiple environmental systems on human development. These systems include the individual, family, school, community and society.

efficacy: a sense of mastery; a belief in oneself's ability to accomplish or master a task or goal.

effect size: an index of the magnitude of difference in outcome between treatment groups and control groups.

effectiveness trial: determines the effectiveness of a treatment within a real-world, community-based settings.

empathy: a therapeutic quality which enables the therapist to understand and the client’s concerns and feelings from the client’s perspective.

empirical test (empirically): research conducted to test a hypothesis.

established (evidence): Multiple high-quality evaluations (RCT/QED) with consistently positive impact across populations and environments

evidence-based: an intervention or program underpinned with evidence of its efficacy. Evidence-based most commonly applies to interventions underpinned by randomized controlled trial evidence.

evidence-based practice: consultation of research evidence to inform treatment decisions, service provision and public policies.

Evidence Rating: a value assigned to an programme, practice or system indicating the extent to which it can be viewed as effective in terms of the rigour in which positive evaluation findings have been observed. Click here to read more.

experimental study: a carefully controlled study involving random assignment to a control group and a treatment group to study the effects of a treatment.

externalizing problem/difficulties: mental health problems that manifest themselves through outward behaviour, most often involving negative or aggressive acts.


family functioning: refers to a collection of effective behaviours between family members that improves the functionality of the family unit (as opposed to dysfunction).  Examples of functioning behaviours include clear roles and boundaries between family members; effective family communication; mutual respect; empathy, family problem solving skills, coparenting practices and the use of nonagressive verbal and physical methods for resolving conflict.

family narrative: family stories that help to understand families’ histories, communication patterns, the way the family system is organised and operates.

fidelity: the extent to which a programme, system or practice is implemented (e.g. replicated) in a manner that is faithful to its original design.

formative (evidence): initial evidence gained through objective methods that may suggest potential intervention effectiveness, but cannot attribute any causality to the intervention. For example, favourable findings from an evaluation comparing children's behaviour before the start of an intervention and then again directly afterwards (i.e. a pre/post design) with standardised measures, but in the absence of a comparison group, could be considered providing formative evidence of effectiveness.



historic control: A non-randomized design where the outcomes of individuals participating in a treatment are then compared to outcomes from a comparable sample in the past who did not receive the treatment.


input: financial, human or physical resources applied to a service or intervention.

internalizing problem/difficulties: a method of coping with stress through negative behaviours and feelings directed towards the self.  Examples of internalizing behaviours include anxiety, depression and self-harming behaviours, including substance misuse.

intention-to-treat (design): research method in which analysis is based upon the initial treatment intent as opposed to the treatment as administered. This means assessing pre and post treatment outcomes in treatment subjects, regardless of whether they completed the treatment.

intervention: educational programme or practice aimed at improving outcomes for young people and families.




logic model: an explanation of an intervention in terms of its inputs (resources, e.g. staff, buildings, learning materials and guidance), activities sometimes also called outputs (home visits, events, courses) and intended short and long term outcomes (i.e. engagement of parents in the short run, and impact on child development in the longer run).  The logic model should include both a framework of measurement and a specified mechanism by which the structural features (inputs, outputs etc) achieve their intended objectives.

longitudinal study: a research design that involves repeated observations or measures of the same group of people over an extended period of time. Often used to track developmental trends or delayed outcomes.


maladaptive: non-productive or dysfunctional behaviours stemming from irrational thoughts, feelings or attributions.  For example, excessive drinking to avoid feelings of anxiety would be considered to be maladaptive.

meta-review (or meta-analysis): quantitative method of systematically combining effect sizes from multiple studies investigating similar interventions in order to derive the most meaningful answer to a specific question. Effect sizes are statistically combined to calculate a meta-effect size.


need: Can refer to individual or community needs. Within the context of individual needs, low needs refer to the needs experienced by the majority of people who do not require high levels of support that cannot be met through universally implemented services. For example, all children need to learn how to read and the majority learn through sight word recognition.  Moderate need typically requires higher levels of support.  With the example of reading, moderate need might apply to children requiring additional support to standard curriculums, including the learning of word attack skills and phonemic awareness. High needs refer to needs that are much higher than the average population and require more targeted services, often provided by specialist trained professionals.

negative reinforcement: in operant conditioning, the removal of negative consequences that may inadvertently encourage a behaviour. Negative reinforcement is the absence of a response or reaction, whereas a negative consequence (e.g. time out) is a sanction, or punishment.


objective measures: refers to measures that aim to reduce measurement bias or personal opinion. Examples of highly objective measures might include a stop-watch, measuring tape or scale. Within programme evaluation, objective measures often refer to questionnaires or methods of evaluation that are conducted in a standardised way (i.e. the same way every time) and are empirically linked to real life behaviours.

observational study: A study in which systematic observations of activities are made as they are happening naturally without any experimental manipulation.

outcome: the primary short- and long-term goals of an intervention.

output: the product of a project or intervention. The term output can refer to activities or people participating in the activities.


p value: is the probability value of whether a statistical outcome is greater than what would occur by chance.

partnership: an approach to therapeutic work that involves the client and practitioner working collaboratively within the context of individual or group therapy.

peer review: a process by which research articles are reviewed by a panel of experts in a field of study who consider the validity of research methods, results and conclusions to determine whether the study is worthy of publication.

placebo: a treatment that is physiologically or psychologically inert and without directly beneficial effects, yet is known to improve symptoms in comparison to receiving no intervention.

positive reinforcement: in operant conditioning, the use of rewarding consequences to encourage behavior.

positivistic approach: An approach to knowledge that heavily relies on empirical research evidence and the description of observable and measurable phenomena.

pre/post programme comparisons: a study that compares participants behaviour before the start of an intervention and then again after it is over through the use of objective measures.  This term typically refers formative evaluations not involving a comparison group.

programme evaluation: the ongoing evaluation of an intervention with unknown efficacy, but is nevertheless implemented at scale.

prosocial behaviour: positive (including courteous and altruistic) behaviours between individuals.

protective factor: a factor identified through epidemiological studies found to mitigate negative consequences. Examples of protective factors include warm and supportive parenting, high quality schools and education, safe communities, a nutritious diet, etc. 


QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework): is the UK national framework for applying units to educational attainment.  It applies a credit value to the level of difficulty of an educational degree or qualification on a scale from Entry Level to Level 8 at the top. The translation of specific degrees to the QCF framework can be viewed here

qualitative method: a research method that produces non-numerical information, include observations, interviews, and focus groups.

quantitative method: research methods that produce numerical data that can be used in statistical analyses.

quasi-experimental study: An experimental design that does not use randomization to assign participants to a treatment and control group.


randomized controlled trial (RCT): study design in which participants are randomly assigned to either one or more treatment groups and a control group to determine the efficacy of a treatment. The use of randomization ensures that known or unknown confounding factors are evenly distributed across intervention groups.

reach: proportion of the population receiving a service or intervention.

reflecting: the act of mirroring back key phrases and ideas to a client during therapy without interpreting them or offering them advice.

reinforcement value: the desirability of the consequences for specific behaviors.

relaxation: a cognitive behavioural technique that involves relaxing on self-cue in the face of a stimulus or situation one finds aversive.

resilience: is a concept introduced by Norman Garmezy and Michael Rutter based on the observation that some indivduals are able to better cope with adverse experiences than others. In this respect, Garmezy and Rutter have observed that negative experiences can improve some individuals ability to cope with adversity, whereas negative experience may impair individuals' coping skills (for example, the development of phobias after a frightening event). Garmezy and Rutter observed that individual differences with respect to reslience may be due, in part, to genetic differences, but also in due to environmental factors, including the presence of key risk and protective factors. For example, the ongoing presence of multiple risk factors will likely reduce an individual's resiliency to adversity, whereas key protective factors may enhance the ability to cope and over come adversity.  More about the concept of resilience and its relationship to risk and protective factors can be viewed here.

respect: genuine regard, caring for a client as an individual with a valid perspective and believing that the client is capable of positive change.

risk factor: factors observed through epidemiological research to be associated with adverse outcomes. Examples of key risk factors include poverty, unemployment, family level stresses such as single parenthood and divorce, poor physical health and mental health problems.


SDQ score: is a score provided by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). 

self-efficacy: the belief that one can personally master a particular task or activity.

self-management/self-regulation: a process by which children and adults monitor their feelings and impulses, including delaying gratification.

self-monitoring: An important component of cognitive behavioral interventions, which consists of self-observing and reflecting upon one’s behaviors and the recording of the observed findings.

significance tests: statistical calculations to determine whether the observed difference between the treatment and control group is greater than what might happen by chance.

simple regression: a statistical test that estimates the relationship between two variables by examining if the scores for one of these variables depend on the scores of the other variable.

social and emotional skills: the ability to successfully understand and/or empathise with the feelings of others. 

social learning theory: refers to a theory first put forth by Albert Bandura observing that individual will increase certain behaviours if they observe others receiving reinforcement for the behaviours. Gerry Patterson tested Bandura's ideas with children and noticed that the attention provided to individual children for agressive behaviour through negative consequences had the adverse effect of increasing the child's aggressive behaviour. Moreover, the aggressive behaviour of other children could also increase when they observed others recieving attention for classroom aggression.

statistical power: the probability of not committing a Type II error (accepting the null hypothesis when it is false) in a research study. Statistical power is increased with larger study samples.

statistical significance: a result where the observed difference between the treatment and control group is greater than what might happen by chance. Significance is typically accepted at the .05 level -- occurring one out of 20 times.

Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ): a self-report behavioural screening questionnaire for children aged four to 16, with a preschool-age version available for children aged three to four. There are five subscales for emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperpactivity/inattention, peer relationship problems and pro-social behaviour. Scores can determine the extent which subscale behaviours are of clinical concern.

subgroup: a group of individuals with a similar characteristic within a wider population.  For example, fathers are a subgroup of parents.

subjective (subjectively): a personal interpretation of an event, behaviour or information.

systematic (literature) review: use of consistent and transparent methods to systematically search for, appraise and summarize all of the published information surrounding a specific topic.


target population: the group of individuals possessing the characteristics and circumstances for which an intervention is designed.

targeted prevention: “at-risk” populations.

theory of change: a theory that links an intervention’s theoretical basis to its inputs, outputs, and short- and long-term outcomes.

time out: a form of discipline whereby a child is removed from the environment in which he or she is misbehaving. This is used to calm children down and/or stop negative behavior from being reinforced.

treatment group: the set of study participants receiving the intervention under investigation.


universal prevention: Strategies, services or interventions made available to all members of the population within a specific target group.






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