The MDI is a strengths-based tool that explores the well-being and experiences of children in grades 4-8 – providing actionable information that supports schools and communities to promote children’s health during these critical years of growth and transition.

Made in BC

The MDI was developed at UBC in collaboration with researchers, educators, community groups, parents and children and has been used since 2009.

Whole Child

Provides reliable and valid information about the well-being, health, and assets of children.

Children's Voices

Completed online during class time by children in Grades 4 through 8.

Strength's Based

Focuses on protective factors, assets, resilience and well-being.

Trends and Patterns

Used to measure trends and patterns at the population-level, not for individual assessment.

MDI is Voluntary

School administrators, teachers, parents/guardians, and children themselves are all able to choose whether or not to participate.

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What is the MDI?

The Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) is a self-report questionnaire that asks children in Grades 4 through 8 about their thoughts, feelings and experiences in school and in the community. The MDI is not an assessment for individual children. Instead, the MDI uses a strengths-based approach to assess five dimensions of child development that are related to social and emotional well-being, health, academic achievement, and overall success through school and life. The information collected helps educators, families, researchers and policy-makers gain a deeper understanding of children’s health and well-being during middle childhood.

Children’s Voices Matter

The MDI is unique in that it gives us insight into areas that have great significance in children’s lives but are not typically evaluated by other forms of assessments. Rather than evaluating academic progress, the MDI gives children an opportunity to communicate to adults in schools and communities about their experiences inside and outside of school.

Children’s voices matter. One of the core beliefs of the MDI is that children’s voices deserve to be heard. Asking children for their experiences and input is valuable because it provides important insight and information on child well-being that we could not otherwise access — information that can be used to create environments and interactions that help children thrive. It is also powerful because it tells children that we value their thoughts and feelings, and grants them a say in how their schools and communities make changes to support them.

The MDI is aligned with Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that states ‘‘children are full-fledged persons who have the right to express their views in all matters affecting them and requires that those views be heard and given due weight in accordance with the child’s age and maturity.’’

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The MDI is a population-level research tool

Children’s individual responses are private and confidential. Children are made aware that their responses will not be shared with school staff, their friends or their family. Participating children’s responses are combined into reports for each school and shared directly with school administrators. Community and neighbourhood level results are publicly available on our MDI Reports page.

MDI is Voluntary

Once a school district has chosen to sign on, school administrators, teachers, parents/guardians, and children are able to choose whether or not they participate. If a parent or guardian does not wish their child to be involved in completing the survey, they simply need to inform the school or email the MDI team at mdi@help.ubc.ca to withdraw their child from the project.

Teachers and school administrators are asked to explain to the children that the MDI is voluntary and that they can decide to participate or not. The questionnaire includes an introduction noting that the child can choose to not participate. Children are also reminded that they may skip questions or stop answering the survey at any time. Children can withdraw at any time by clicking the “withdraw from this survey” button at the bottom of every page of the survey.

MDI Uses Informed Passive Consent

The MDI project uses informed passive consent. With informed passive consent, parents/guardians are fully informed of the nature of the MDI project and the use of the information but are not required to actively complete a consent form. Instead, parents/guardians complete a withdrawal form should they not want their child to participate.

Informed Passive Consent Letters are sent home from the school at least four weeks before the children complete the questionnaire. These letters are available in 12 languages and provide detailed information about the MDI project, how the information is collected, that the information is confidential, how the information is stored, and how the information is reported. The letters also include information about how to withdraw from the project. In addition, our Parent Information Sheet outlines key information about the MDI including information about why the middle years matter.

Passive consent is common in population health studies because it is often not feasible to get the active consent of a large population. The MDI research project must renew ethics approval annually through the UBC research ethics board.

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Frequenty Asked Questions

Can I see the questions on the MDI?

Yes. We encourage parents/guardians to view the Grade 4-5  and Grade 6-8 MDI questionnaires.

Some parents/guardians and caregivers use questions from the MDI to help guide conversations about their child’s feelings and experiences in school and in the community. Some of the questions on the MDI might be on topics that are new to children and therefore might cause them to ask their parents/guardians or teachers questions about these topics. To provide more information and background about the kinds of questions that are on the MDI we have also created an MDI Questions Brief.

Can I see my child’s answers to the MDI survey?

The MDI is not an individual assessment tool. Your child’s individual responses are private and confidential. Children are made aware that their responses will not be shared with school staff, their friends or their family.

Participating children’s responses are combined into reports for each school and shared directly with school administrators. We recommend following up with your school principal or Parent Advisory Committee to access your school-level results. Community and neighbourhood level results are publicly available and can be viewed on our MDI Reports Page.

Why do you use informed passive parent/guardian consent?

The MDI project uses informed passive consent. With informed passive consent, parents/guardians are fully informed of the nature of the MDI project and the use of the information but are not required to actively complete a consent form. Instead, parents/guardians complete a withdrawal form should they not want their child to participate.

Informed passive consent is common in population health studies because of the size of the population that is participating.

HELP has undertaken an in-depth review of the informed passive consent approach and found that this method can be used as long as parents/guardians have sufficient time to decline participation; translations of consent forms are available in languages representative of the parent/guardian population; children are informed of their research rights; and confidentiality of children’s responses are maintained. Also, informed passive consent is used because the project is considered low risk, provides beneficial community information, and it is emphasized to the children that they are not required to participate, nor to answer all of the questions. To learn more about the use of informed passive consent, please contact privacy@help.ubc.ca.

How is my child’s privacy protected?

To ensure personal information is secure, the Human Early Learning Partnership has strong measures in place and follows all rules, agreements, practices, and legislation for safeguarding data. To learn more about HELP data protection and the Five Safes’ framework for HELP research, please visit our Safeguarding Data page.

HELP follows the highest standards available, many of which are required by law. To ensure the privacy and confidentiality of individuals, all of HELP’s systems and processes meet or exceed the requirements of provincial and federal privacy legislation.

How much time does it take to fill out the MDI?

The MDI questionnaire takes one to two class periods to complete. Completion time is dependent on the grade and reading level of the children. For example, children in Grade 4 may take 90 minutes to complete the questions. Older children may take less time.

Is participating in the MDI a good use of class time?

The MDI measures aspects of children’s social and emotional development and well-being that align with the BC Ministry of Education’s K-12 curriculum, which includes a focus on promoting children’s personal and social competencies. District and school administration teams across the province choose to participate because they find the information invaluable. There are numerous examples of how the information collected has been used by in schools and communities, including decisions about after-school programming and recreational activities for children. Visit discovermdi.ca to learn more!

How does the MDI differ from the Foundational Skills Assessment?

The MDI goes beyond academics and offers a view of the whole child. For example, in BC, the only information that exists at a large-scale level about children is the information obtained from the Foundational Skills Assessment (FSA). The FSA focuses on reading, writing and numeracy skills. In contrast, the MDI uses a strengths-based approach to assess five dimensions of child development that are scientifically linked to social and emotional well-being, health, academic achievement, and overall success through school and life.

Is my child too young to answer these types of questions?

Grades 4 to 8 are important transitional times in a child’s development with many cognitive and social and emotional changes. Experiences in the middle years, especially between the ages of 10 to 13, have critical and long-lasting effects. They are powerful predictors of adolescent adjustment and future success. By focusing on children in Grades 4 to 8, we can learn more about the factors that can make a meaningful difference in children’s lives. 

Research has found that responses from children in Grade 4 and above are as reliable and valid as responses from adults. More importantly, children’s voices matter. One of the core beliefs of the MDI is that children’s voices deserve to be heard. Asking children for their input is valuable because it provides us all – researchers, educators, parents/guardians and policy-makers – with important information on child well-being that we cannot otherwise access. It is also powerful because it tells children that we value their thoughts and feelings and gives them a say in how their schools and communities make changes to support them. 

Can my child with special needs participate? Are there accommodations for children with special needs to participate?

At HELP, our goal is to include all children in the study, giving every child a voice. To this end, the survey experience has been designed with children in mind. It is done online, so the majority of questions can be answered with the click of a mouse. A few questions provide a space to type a single letter or a 1 to 2 word response. We have also included a text-to-speech function that reads questions aloud, if needed. We also recommend schools provide additional support to children who may need it. We encourage parents/guardians to contact their child’s teacher to discuss how the child can be best supported in completing the MDI questionnaire. Please contact us if you have additional questions.

How will information from the MDI be used?

Schools use their school-level information to evaluate and inform school-based goals and initiatives that support children’s well-being. Community organizations use neighbourhood level MDI results to inform planning for programs for children in the middle years. These are just two general examples. We encourage you to ask your school principal how they plan to use the MDI results.

Why is this survey important? What difference will it make?

The information collected from the MDI is used to create comprehensive reports that are shared with educators, families, researchers and policy-makers across BC and the country, making a difference in the lives of children by informing policy and practice. By asking children to tell us about their daily habits, feelings, relationships and environments, we honour their voices and enable them to work with the grownups in supporting their development. Please visit Discover MDI to read some of the school and community stories.

Key MDI Contacts

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Eva Oberle
Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia