About the Middle Childhood Survey

What is the Middle Childhood Survey (MCS)?

The Middle Childhood Survey (MCS) is one component of the NSW Child Development Study (NSW-CDS). The MCS provides an index of child mental health and wellbeing in the context of a longitudinal research study of children who were assessed using the Australian Early Development Index in 2009. The aim of the MCS was to measure the mental health of children in the NSW-CDS at a critical stage of development (middle childhood), in order to better understand the needs of children in this age-group (~age 11 years), and how programs and policies for young children might be improved to meet these needs and promote healthy development into adulthood. The MCS is not a clinical diagnostic tool that could be used to “label” children or diagnose mental illness.

The MCS was completed by Year 6 children in 2015, during class time. The MCS obtained anonymous information on children’s thoughts, feelings, actions, and experiences. The questions were designed to map patterns of mental health and wellbeing at individual, regional, and population levels, for use by the Study’s Stakeholders and Partners to plan policies and programs that promote healthy childhood development. The questions were developed with input from representatives of all education sectors (Government, Catholic and Independent schools), as well as specially convened groups representing: the parents of public, Catholic, and Independent school children; teachers’ and primary Principals’ associations; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; isolated students and parents; and the NSW-CDS Scientific Committee.

How was the MCS conducted?

In 2015, all Year 6 students enrolled in participating schools in NSW were invited to complete the MCS during class time. The research team sought advice and support from many different groups, including Parents' and Community groups, School Teachers’ and Principals’ associations, and from representatives of the Government, Catholic, and Independent education sectors, to develop an online (Internet) survey which asked students to report on their own thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and experiences. The self-report survey was completed by students via an online platform, designed specifically to enable the administration of the survey during class time, with minimal involvement by class teachers. The research team had no direct contact with children who completed the survey, and the online data collection platform was managed by an independent third party to ensure that individual privacy was maintained (i.e., the research team will never be privy to the identities of the children who completed the survey).

The development and administration of the MCS was only possible owing to the support provided by school sectors and stakeholders. The NSW-CDS appreciatively acknowledges the support provided by the NSW Department of Education, the Catholic Education Commission NSW, the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, NSW Primary Principals’ Association, NSW Teachers Federation, Independent Education Union NSW/ACT, Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW, Council of Catholic School Parents, NSW Parents’ Council, Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association and the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.

How will the information be used?

Child responses obtained from the MCS are being examined on a community basis, to understand patterns of child mental health and wellbeing across the state, and to encourage community and government participation in the planning and provision of essential services for healthy child development. The MCS data are also being combined with information from other organisations using record linkage procedures that maintain privacy. Record linkage provides a unique and safe way to look at a range of factors in childhood that may have risk or protective effects for a range of outcomes during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Record linkages are undertaken by a third party (CHeReL) according to strict privacy protocols that are protected by NSW State and Commonwealth laws (please see: Information about Record Linkage).

The MCS data, in combination with information from record linkages, will remain useful for many years in helping to identify childhood predictors of long-term mental health, education, social, and other outcomes in the population (please see: What We Do). The research team will work with our government partners, using the MCS data and linked records from government agencies, to provide schools, governments, and others with information that can be used to develop policies and programs that promote healthy development for all Australian children.

Record Linkages of other information with the MCS

An agency to support record linkage in NSW (CHeReL: the Centre for Health Record Linkage) has been funded by the NSW Government in order to make best use of the important information contained in administrative records that are routinely collected (e.g., hospital admission information). With this support from the government, information from these rich and varied sources can now be used for public benefit, allowing researchers to examine health, education, and other information at a population level. This is important because it means that everyone is able to contribute to plans for better public health policy and programs. For example, MCS data linkages with administrative records or other routinely collected data will help us to better understand how factors such as birth complications (for example, prematurity) might affect a child’s emotional readiness to learn at school, or more generally, how patterns of mental health in the population compare in urban and rural parts of NSW. This kind of information will help local communities and governments develop and deliver programs for young children that promote healthy development. Examples of databases that may be linked to the MCS include, but are not limited to, records from children and their parents on health (e.g., information on hospital admissions), education (e.g., literacy and numeracy skills), welfare (e.g., information from Family and Community Services), and/or justice records (e.g., information on crime statistics).