An Abbotsford mom has started an online petition against a controversial survey that asks students questions about topics such as suicidal thoughts and sexual activity.
The BC Adolescent Health Survey conducted by the McCreary Centre Society was distributed May 25 to Abbotsford students in Grades 7 to 12.
The survey is held province-wide every five years and addresses such as substance use; injury prevention behaviour; suicide and self-harm; sexual orientation and gender identity; sexual behaviour; thoughts about skills and the future; and extra-curricular activities.
The survey was a controversial issue in Abbotsford in 2007, when school trustees voted against participating in the 2008 survey, saying some questions might offend students and their parents and not be age-appropriate.
But the board of education voted to participate in the 2013 survey, saying it had changed since the previous one.
Mom Lisa Brandsma recently began an online petition, after she became aware that her 12-year-old son had completed the survey without her knowledge or consent.
She said that’s because the survey offers two forms of consent – passive (no parental/guardian signature required) and active (signature required) – and the school district opted for the former one.
Brandsma said a letter was sent home to parents to advise them of the survey, but no signature was required for a child to participate.
She said her son did not receive the letter. After she found out he had taken the survey, which is not available online, she tracked down a copy and found some of the questions “quite inappropriate” for 12-year-olds.
Among the questions she said she observed were: “How many times have you cut yourself?”, “How many times have you seriously considered killing yourself?” and “What kind of precautionary measures to prevent pregnancy did you take when you had sex: withdrawal (pulling-out method), none (same-sex partner)?”
Brandsma said these types of questions are not age-appropriate, and parents should have been given the option for their kids to be excluded.
“I’m very dissatisfied and frustrated that my son was given this survey without my consent,” she said.
Brandsma also says the survey should be available online for parents to read.
Her online petition – which she hopes to take Canada-wide – states that, in future, a parent/guardian signature should be required for students to participate in such surveys. Almost 450 people had signed the petition as of Friday morning.
But some parents responding to a Facebook post on the issue disagree with Brandsma, saying that parents might “freak out” about the content of the survey and refuse to let their kids participate. This could result in the loss of valuable information, one individual said.
Another person said kids probably would not be honest with their responses if they knew their parents were involved.
Kayla Stuckart, communications manager with the Abbotsford school district, said notification of this year’s survey and consent forms were sent home to families, allowing parents to opt out if they chose.
“The district will continue to review the distribution and administration procedures with Fraser Health to ensure that parents receive the information in a timely way to determine if the would like their child to participate in the survey or not,” she said.
Stuckart said the district chose to participate in the survey because “it is valuable for the development of provincial and local health and prevention initiatives for children and youth, helping many organizations recognize areas of strength and places that need additional attention.”
“The physical and emotional healht topics covered in the survey are complex, but we know that they are real issues in our society and warrant our attention,” she added.
The McCreary Centre Society says it uses results from the survey to highlight vulnerable student populations, monitor trends over time in school safety and “school connectedness,” identify emerging issues, and have students design and deliver innovative projects to address issues.