How We Do It

The NSW Child Development Study uses two different types of methods to gather information about children’s health and development at a population level:

1. Record Linkage of information held by different organisations using special privacy-protected methods

2. A survey of Year 6 students’ mental health and wellbeing

Record Linkage

Record Linkage is completed in two separate stages.

The first stage is conducted by the “Centre for Health and Record Linkage” (CHeReL). The CHeReL matches together the identities (names, addresses, dates-of-birth, etc.) of children who appear in two or more databases, without having access to any of the information (data) that is held in the databases about those children (such as Middle Childhood Survey data or Australian Early Development Census data). After matching identities (but no other information), the CHeReL assigns a matching-code number for each child, and sends this to the organisations that hold the information (data). The matching-code number then replaces identifying information in the data files to enable anonymous information from different data files to be matched for each individual.

In the second stage, the data files labelled with a matching-code number (but with no identifying information) are sent to the research team. The team brings together (links) the data files from the different organisations on the basis of the matching-code number. In this way, the research team can combine the Middle Childhood Survey data with lots of other information (such as data files from health and education) without ever knowing the identities of the children. These processes are governed by strict privacy and confidentiality protection laws, so that each individual’s identity and data can be protected. You can see this description illustrated in the picture below.


Middle Childhood Survey

In 2015, all Year 6 students enrolled in participating schools in NSW were invited to complete the Middle Childhood Survey 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 facilitation by school 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).

These methods for survey implementation in 2015 followed a smaller Feasibility study that was conducted in 2014, with the assistance of 11 primary schools in NSW who were willing to trial our method of collecting survey information from Year 6 students. We sought feedback from the students, parents, and staff who assisted with the Feasibility study to help us develop the best methods for the state-wide survey in 2015 (please see: MCS-FS Feedback).