McCreary study would supply valuable data

If Chilliwack school trustees hope to help kids at risk, they can’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.

It is time Chilliwack school trustees get their heads out of the sand.

Last week two of the community’s front-line workers for youth did everything short of begging school trustees to allow its students to partake in the McCreary Centre Society’s adolescent health survey, but were met with resistance.

School trustee Heather Maahs said she was uncomfortable with the line of questioning, fearing some of the questions asked of the younger students would “plant seeds” in them to engage in risky behaviour.

Well trustee Maahs, I’ve got news for you:

Kids in Grade 7 are doing drugs, drinking, smoking, skipping out of school, and some are even engaging in sexual activity.

These behaviours are not relegated to big cities, they are happening right here in Chilliwack. It is time the leaders of this school district quit their denial, stop pretending it’s not happening, stop believing Chilliwack is Pleasantville.

Because it’s not.

A special report published by The Progress last year spoke to a sample of students who described lives of abuse, neglect, risky behaviour. One spent most of his youth living on the streets, another struggled with mental health, another spent several years couch surfing. Some drank copious amounts of alcohol, smoked marijuana, snorted cocaine, dropped ecstasy, and other such drugs to get by.

One even started drinking at 10 years old.

These are problems that have plagued teens in this community for years.

According to Chilliwack Youth Services, roughly 200 youth in Chilliwack have been identified as functionally homeless. They’re couch surfing, temporarily living with friends, residing in homes that are not safe. In some cases, they’re being sexually exploited.

However, because the organization does not have solid numbers to use when applying for government grants and other funding agencies, it’s often overlooked when competing against other communities that have participated in the McCreary Centre Society’s adolescent health survey.

How is that not good motivation to get on board with this program?

The adolescent health survey is conducted by the McCreary Centre Society, a non-profit, non-government organization every four years to gauge the health of youth in the province.

Results specific to communities are not published, but rather are released to school districts for their own use. The only results published are collective, regional results.

So when trustee Silvia Dyck questions the validity of allowing an outside agency to conduct a survey on Chilliwack students, why is she not doing the same for FSA tests, which are publicly released by the Fraser Institute – another outside organization?

With the McCreary survey, a random selection of students in Grades 7-12 complete an anonymous pen and paper survey, answering questions relating to physical and emotional health. Questions include topics of sports and leisure activities, school and work, weight and body image, family connectedness, and yes, the more touchy subjects of sexual behaviour, substance abuse, and smoking use.

These are questions that need to be asked. And they are questions that need to be answered. Because without them, these problems will continue, and a good portion of Chilliwack’s youth will falter.

Pretending they don’t exist will not make them go away.