Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Fifty years of preventing and treating childhood behaviour disorders: a systematic review to inform policy and practice
  1. Charlotte Waddell,
  2. Christine Schwartz,
  3. Caitlyn Andres,
  4. Jenny Lou Barican,
  5. Donna Yung
  1. Faculty of Health Sciences, Children’s Health Policy Centre, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Charlotte Waddell, Faculty of Health Sciences, Children’s Health Policy Centre, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver V6B5K3, Canada; charlotte_waddell{at}


Question Oppositional defiant and conduct disorders (ODD and CD) start early and persist, incurring high individual and collective costs. To inform policy and practice, we therefore asked: What is the best available research evidence on preventing and treating these disorders?

Study selection and analysis We sought randomised controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating interventions addressing the prevention or treatment of behaviour problems in individuals aged 18 years or younger. Our criteria were tailored to identify higher-quality RCTs that were also relevant to policy and practice. We searched the CINAHL, ERIC, MEDLINE, PsycINFO and Web of Science databases, updating our initial searches in May 2017. Thirty-seven RCTs met inclusion criteria—evaluating 15 prevention programmes, 8 psychosocial treatments and 5 medications. We then conducted narrative synthesis.

Findings For prevention, 3 notable programmes reduced behavioural diagnoses: Classroom-Centered Intervention; Good Behavior Game; and Fast Track. Five other programmes reduced serious behaviour symptoms such as criminal activity. Prevention benefits were long term, up to 35 years. For psychosocial treatment, Incredible Years reduced behavioural diagnoses. Three other interventions reduced criminal activity. Psychosocial treatment benefits lasted from 1 to 8 years. While 4 medications reduced post-test symptoms, all caused important adverse events.

Conclusions Considerable RCT evidence favours prevention.

Clinical implications Effective prevention programmes should therefore be made widely available. Effective psychosocial treatments should also be provided for all children with ODD/CD. But medications should be a last resort given associated adverse events and given only short-term evidence of benefits. Policymakers and practitioners can help children and populations by acting on these findings.

  • public health
  • preventive medicine

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

View Full Text

Statistics from


  • Contributors CW developed the idea for the review and wrote the manuscript. CS extracted relevant data, interpreted the data and contributed to the manuscript. CA and JLB conducted the literature searches, extracted relevant data and contributed to the manuscript. DY extracted relevant data and contributed to the manuscript. All authors approved the final version.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Canada Research Chairs Program (grant number 950-228413, dated 1 March 2013) and by the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development (grant number SL00444S01, dated 11 April 2011, modified 30 December 2015).

  • Competing interests CW is coleading a randomised controlled trial on Nurse-Family Partnership, one of the interventions is discussed in this systematic review.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.