Asking the tough questions

Chilliwack school board finally agrees to allow the district to take part in the McCreary study.

Ignorance may be bliss in some circles, but not when the needs of Chilliwack’s most vulnerable are at stake.

That was the message various social agencies hoped the Chilliwack Board of Education would understand as trustees debated the merits of allowing students to take part in a survey by the McCreary Centre Society.

The study is conducted every four years in British Columbia. Since 1992 more than 100,000 individuals in grades 7 to 12 have provided a picture of the issues, attitudes and behaviours of today’s youth. That data is used by government and non-profit agencies as a basis for, among other things, determining the needs of a community.

Missing from that picture, however, has been Chilliwack.

The last survey conducted by the McCreary Centre was in 2008; the one before that was 2003. But voices from Chilliwack’s youth in both those surveys were absent – silenced by the fears of trustees who thought the questions too explicit, the study too probing.

Those fears were present again Tuesday evening as trustees voted on participation in the next McCreary study, set for 2013.

Fortunately, they were the minority.

In a five-to-two vote, the Chilliwack school board decided to allow the district to take part in the study. (Parents will have the option of opting their child out.)

That’s welcome news for people like Tim Bohr, youth services director with Chilliwack Community Services, and Dan Bibby of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

The two had appealed to the board last month to allow Chilliwack’s ­participation.

The survey satisfies more than idle curiosity about today’s youth, they argued. It provides hard data that agencies use to access the money necessary to fund the programs that address the very real issues facing young people.

No data means no funding – and no support for Chilliwack’s most vulnerable.

We may not like all the answers we hear from the survey. But we need the courage to ask.

Others are counting on us.