A study, The Before School Check (B4SC): reporting outcomes an referral rates for all New Zealand children, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today, found that less than five per cent of children assessed in the B4SC between 2010 and 2016 had development problems.
Researchers from the University of Otago, which ran the study, found that children from socioeconomically disadvantaged areas were more likely to be referred for extra assessment.
Co-author Noni Richards said 92 per cent of four-year-olds in New Zealand had a B4SC and less than five per cent had abnormal results showing most children started school without developmental delays.
“I thought that was reasonably low compared to other countries…we had a low rate of identifying abnormal scores.”
Other reasons for the low percentage could be that Kiwi parents might be less likely to report problems or the eight per cent not having a B4SC might be more likely to be ones who would need to be referred, she said.
“Children who have problems might be less likely to attend these before school checks.”
The research also showed that more children in lower socioeconomic areas were being referred for extra assessment.
A quarter of all children in areas with the highest deprivation scores were referred for further assessment compared with 14 per cent of children in areas with the lowest deprivation scores.
“It’s quite surprising to find more children are referred from high deprivation areas,” she said.
Most of these children were not under special care already and the check had identified a need to be referred.
“Is the before school check picking up those kids that haven’t been referred in other areas or does it show that actually children from higher deprivation areas are more likely to have abnormal scores?”
This is something that needs more research but if it means that children with developmental delays from higher deprivation areas are getting picked up in the B4SC whereas before they might have been missed until they got to school then that is positive, Richards said.
The study also found that not all children who met referral criteria were referred to other health services, which is something that also needed to be further looked into, she said.
B4SC is a health and development screening programme for four-year-olds.
It captures information on the height, weight, vision, hearing and emotional and physical development of four-year-old children in Nee Zealand.The programme aims to identify any issues a child may have that could negatively affect their participation in education.