Chilliwack school district urged to join McCreary study

Chilliwack’s front-line youth workers implored the school district to participate in an adolescent health survey.

Chilliwack’s front-line youth workers implored the school district to participate in the next McCreary Centre Society’s adolescent health survey.

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Youth Services director Tim Bohr and Dan Bibby of Ministry of Children and Family Development said the survey’s results will provide agencies like theirs hard numbers to better help at-risk youth.

They also noted it would help the school district and community as a whole understand where their teens are in terms of sexual activity, substance abuse, emotional and physical abuse, anxiety, and other areas of concern.

Every four years the McCreary Centre Society, a non-profit, non-government agency, conducts an adolescent health survey that anonymously questions youth in Grades 7-12 about physical and emotional health, including questions of sex, drugs, alcohol and cigarette use.

The survey is a pen and paper questionnaire conducted by a public health nurse.

Individual school data is not published, but is released to specific school districts for their own use. The only data that is published is a collective of the region.

Chilliwack school district opted out of participating in the 2003 and 2008 survey.

Bohr and Bibby hope this year will be different.

“This is a huge benefit for our community,” said Bohr. “It would provide us with empirical data specific to Chilliwack.” Right now, “we don’t have hard numbers, and I would submit to you there is a large gap into what we don’t know. Without hard numbers for Chilliwack, we can’t [address the needs] without 100 per cent accuracy.”

As well, without hard numbers, they are at a disadvantage for accessing government funding when competing against other nearby communities like Abbotsford, Mission and Langley which have participated in the surveys.

The findings of the survey are often used by government agencies to determine funding for programs.

“Any advantage we can have the better as we try to compete against other communities for funding,” added Bibby. “It is really important to have a snapshot of the community so we can provide the best services and programs for our kids.”

Some trustees, however, have reservations.

Trustee Silvia Dyck was concerned students wouldn’t respond to the questions accurately, skewing the results.

Trustee Heather Maahs was concerned with the line of questioning.

“I question the appropriateness of some of the questions being asked, and whether or not they would plant seeds into students,” said Maahs. “I know the questions are quite explicit in a number of areas and I have a problem with that.”

Both Dyck and Maahs said they would require seeing a copy of the survey prior to agreeing to participate.

According to Bohr and Bibby, the McCreary Centre Society has said it would be available to trustees for further consultation.

The next survey will be conducted in 2013.