The McCreary Centre Society put out a video in 2013 to explain to students how their information is being collected, and why. (Image McCreary Centre Society)

Teen health survey back in Chilliwack next February

Students to be asked “explicit” questions for research, but parents retain permission rights

The BC Adolescent Health Survey will once again be conducted in Chilliwack schools, after the majority of school trustees spoke in favour of the information gathering tool.

The survey asks teens in high school various questions surrounding health, focusing on issues like sleep, technology use, poverty, aboriginal language fluency, resiliency, online relationships, sexual history and drug use. The questions are asked by B.C. health nurses, answers are kept confidential, and the information is used to help drive program delivery to youth in B.C.

It’s carried out by an organization called the McCreary Centre Society, and was last conducted in 2013 — the first time Chilliwack School District participated.

Plenty was learned in that study, and has been put to use locally, the district’s assistant superintendent told the school board last Tuesday.

Rohan Arul-Pragasam said that the survey will be conducted around February 2018, and parents will have the opportunity to have their teens opt out if they are uncomfortable with it. In total, McCreary questions a total of 10 per cent of the student population in each region.

After the information is collected, “each region gets a booklet that talks about protective factors for that region, as well as a general booklet for the province,” said Arul-Pragasam. For the 2013 study, the results were ready one year later after a process of being entered, cleaned, weighted and analyzed.

The McCreary Centre put together a video that year to explain the process:

“It actually provides invaluable information,” he added, which leads directly to being able to provide support services back to local youth in the areas needed the most. In 2013, for example, it was found that this region needed to work harder to help students who had suicide ideations.

That led to an initiative called Youth As Gatekeepers, which got teens actively involved in working with other teens who had experienced similar issues. Poor sleep habits was also found to be a common problem among local teens, and that led to the creation of a sleep study to gather more information.

It’s important to keep asking these questions, Arul-Pragasam said, because vulnerable populations are a “changing target.”

“Kids are in risk, then out of risk, depending on factors that affect them,” he said.

Interestingly, Arul-Pragasam pointed out, asking the students questions does not seem to led to an increase in risks. For example, the McCreary Society has looked at whether asking students about self harm has coincided with any increases in self-harming behaviour. They found that it has not.

Trustees Walt Krahn, Silvia Dyck, Bob Patterson and Paul McManus all took the time to speak in favour of the motion, and the sole vote against approving the 2018 study was Trustee Heather Maahs. Trustees Dan Coulter and Barry Neufeld didn’t speak to the motion, but did vote in favour.

“There are some very sexually explicit questions asked in this, correct?,” Maahs asked Arul-Pragasam. “So, a 12-year-old could potentially be asked how many partners they’ve had, and whether or not they’ve used drugs and so on and so forth, and items they’ve maybe never even heard of before?”

“That is correct,” said Arul-Pragasam, but students also have the option of not taking the survey.

“I’m delighted there is some work around resiliency,” said Krahn. “Often youngsters, if they have strong resilience within, they are able to deal with problems as they come along… The data has been useful in the past and I think we need to support this.”


@CHWKcommunity
jpeters@theprogress.com

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