NHS TAYSIDE has defended a controversial survey asking children as young as nine about drug taking and knife carrying.
The Courier can reveal the £225,000 Evidence2Success “wellbeing” survey completed by Perth and Kinross children last week was part-funded by the health body.
It has provoked fury among parents, aggrieved by the nature and tone of the questions their youngsters were asked to fill in.
The 24-page survey quizzed pupils about whether they have attended school “drunk, on drugs or high” and had numerous questions about heroin, cocaine, LSD and former “legal highs”.
Pupils were asked whether “all in all, I am inclined to think that I am a failure”, whether “life is not worth it” and scales were provided in some schools so they could weigh themselves.
A questionnaire for 14 to 16-year-olds asked about their sexual habits.
In a response to a parent’s complaint, seen by The Courier, NHS Tayside’s deputy chief executive, Caroline Selkirk, said: “In terms of ethical approval for the project, the approach taken is commonly used by social research units.
“An independent view on the survey and its approach was sought and the conclusion states that the project has been conducted with due care and attention to all stakeholders and implemented the correct procedures and processes.
“The areas of drugs, alcohol, violence and crime are all important issues which we are striving to understand more about in order to inform the support we offer to young people and their families.
“These are sensitive areas, especially for the younger age group. Participation in the survey was not mandatory and the children were able to miss out any questions or stop filling it in at any point, they were also able to opt out at the beginning.
“We also understand that, for the younger age groups, the class teacher was present and able to provide support to the children as appropriate. I would like to assure you that we will take on board any learning from this survey and use it to inform any future work in this area which is undertaken in NHS Tayside.”
The Scottish Government also defended the survey. A spokesman said: “This is a good example of a local authority engaging with their communities to ascertain what services are needed in their communities.
“This work will help give young people a voice in early intervention and prevention services, and whether these are in the right places, and supporting the right people.
“Neither the Scottish Government nor Perth and Kinross Council recognise the claims being made about this piece of work.”
Despite council denials, parents claim their children were forced to take part in the survey, were weighed in front of their classmates and proper consent was not given.
There are also concerns over anonymity because youngsters had to input a unique ID number before starting.
Comments left on this website and Perth and Kinross Council Facebook page reflected the anger.
Comrie parent Dee Cooper said: “The section I find most obscene is the question about being a complete failure the damage that could potentially be caused by this in terms of self-esteem is frightening.
“You ask a question like that of a child with such thoughts and you are confirming it in their head. It’s a form of psychological abuse.”
Julie Henderson said: “My daughter was disturbed and bemused by the questions asked and if she felt herself that they were inappropriate, then that is good enough for me.
“I do not object to surveys in general but I think this one has been seriously mishandled and I would question the validity of any results obtained.”
Joanne Nicol said: “My child took part in this survey, with my permission given, on the understanding that the questions asked were age appropriate, relevant to the survey and anonymous.
“After the questions had been answered and later discussed with me by my son, it became apparent that the questions asked were not age appropriate, always relevant or answered anonymously.”
While happy to help, she continued: “I do not appreciate being manipulated or treated as a fool, neither do I appreciate my child being treated in this way.”
However, Wendy McLellan said: “I am pleased that the council are trying to involve our children in how future services are planned. My son took the survey and wasn’t remotely disturbed by it, he knows very little about drugs or alcohol but they had the option to say don’t know.
“We all got a letter and had the option to opt out, I really don’t see the problem.”
A spokesman for Perth and Kinross Council said it had received only one formal complaint about the survey.