Surrey to take part in health survey
For the first time, Surrey students are being allowed to take part in a province-wide survey that gathers information about adolescent health and safety to help plan programs and services for youth.
The Surrey School District has this year agreed to participate in the Adolescent Health Survey (AHS) conducted by the McCreary Centre Society, a non-profit organization concerned with the health of young people.
The survey involves a 45-minute questionnaire given to students from Grades 7 to 12 (aged 12 to 18) touching on a variety of topics, including school, family, alcohol and drug use, sexual activity, body image, suicide and extracurricular activities. This is the fourth such questionnaire – others were done in 1992, 1998 and 2003 – but the first in which Surrey will be counted.
In the past, local school trustees have questioned the appropriateness of asking some of the more sensitive questions in a school environment.
Trustee Heather Stilwell still finds some of the questions “somewhat invasive,” especially for students as young as Grade 7, but feels it may be important to have the largest school district in B.C. included.
“I would really rather not (give the survey here), but I do know the results of these surveys are being used by policy makers, by people in the health department, by people in the education department,” Stilwell said.
“We are addressing a lot of the issues, like student safety. If what we’re doing isn’t taken into account, it could be perpetuating the notion that nothing is changing. If our voice isn’t there, they could be basing their findings on skewed results.”
Still, she has heard from a few concerned parents. One mother, Stilwell said, didn’t like the order of the questions. In the portion on sexual activity, students are asked whether they’ve had oral sex, and later, whether they’ve had sexual intercourse. If they answer “no” to the latter, they are then asked if they did not have intercourse because of a fear of sexual transmitted disease.
“The parent that phoned me said, by inference, we’re teaching them that there is no risk of STDs through oral sex,” said Stilwell, noting it perpetuates an already popular myth amongst youth. “I was very troubled with that. I think that was a very legitimate question.”
She said she’s forwarded the concern to senior management in the district.
The questionnaires, funded by the Ministries of Health and Children and Family Development, will only be given at selected schools. Students must have parental consent before participating in the confidential surveys, which are being administered now through May.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, research director for McCreary, 51 of B.C.’s 59 school districts, including Delta, are taking part. About 1,700 students in 130 classes will be sampled in Surrey and about 350 students in 24 classes in Delta. Between 30,000 and 35,000 students province-wide are expected to take part.