Background: Assessments of child psychopathology commonly rely on multiple informants, e.g., parents, teachers and children. Informants often disagree about the presence or absence of symptoms, reflecting reporter bias, situation-specific behaviour, or random variation in measurement. However, few studies have systematically tested how far correlates of child psychopathology differ between informants.
Methods: Parents, teachers and children in the 1999 British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Survey (n = 4,525, ages 11-15 years) completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Multiple source regression models tested the extent to which child, family, school and neighbourhood characteristics were differentially associated with the three informants' reports. The 2004 British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Survey (n = 3,438, ages 11-15 years) was used for replication.
Results: Almost all significant correlates of child mental health were differentially related to parent, teacher and child ratings of adjustment. Parental distress, parent-rated family functioning, and child physical health problems were most strongly associated with parent ratings. Child ability and attainment, socio-economic factors, and school and neighbourhood disadvantage were more strongly associated with teacher and parent rated mental health than with children's own ratings. Gender differences in externalising problems were most pronounced for teacher ratings, and least so for child ratings; the opposite held true for emotional problems. Effect sizes for combined latent scores fell near the upper end of the range of effect sizes estimated for the three individual informants. Results showed good replication across the two samples.
Conclusions: The study highlights that there is substantial variation across informants in the links between associated factors and child psychopathology.