Ministry ‘hides test’s real purpose’

first_imgSunday Star Times 24 June 2012Kiwi  preschoolers are undergoing mental health tests – some without their parents’ knowledge. The Ministry of Health’s B4 School Check was thrust in to the spotlight after Australia announced plans to introduce a similar programme which created controversy as critics warned about the risk of creating an epidemic of problems such as autism. The Australian programme would see doctors use a checklist to consider behaviours like shyness and sleeping with the light on as signs of possible psychological problems. Critics here say New Zealand has been doing something similar for four years. Since 2008, Plunket, doctors, mobile clinics and home visits have screened more than 100,000 four to five year-olds for health, behavioural, social and developmental problems. In the same period, Pharmac figures show a 140 per cent increase in antidepressant prescriptions for 0 to 4-year-olds between 2009 and 2010, and an average 10 per cent increase in mood-stabilising drug prescriptions in the last five years for children aged five and over. B4 School includes a checklist called the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire alongside vision, hearing and health tests. It asks parents and teachers about a child’s behaviour, including if they often lose their temper, are easily distracted, are generally liked by others, and if they are nervous or clingy in new situations. It rates children as normal, abnormal or borderline, and produces a score indicating whether a child is likely to have a significant problem. The results can be broken down for pro-social behaviour, hyperactivity, emotional symptoms, conduct and peer disorders. In the most recent quarter one in 10 children was identified as borderline or abnormal. They can be referred to a paediatrician or child mental health expert.

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