When Psychological Tests Fail
In mid February of this year, the Scottish government passed a bill that would ensure that every child would be appointed a ‘Named Person,’ that is a state worker (social worker, teacher, etc.) in charge of this child’s well-being until they reach the age of 18. These workers would support the children and their families by providing information and access to services and by stepping in when familial situations arise that pose a threat to the child. These workers are allowed to speak and give advice to the child, as well as collect any personal information, all without the consent of the parents. Although this new bill raises questions about human rights, certain issues cannot be ignored when considering the means by which the government is collecting the information.
A psychological test was developed to measure the level of well-being of schoolchildren. The government defines this construct by eight indicators, which are whether the child is healthy, safe, respected, nurtured, responsible, achieving, active, and included. The named persons are tasked with using the psychological test on the children they are responsible for to measure their well-being. However, a few problems arise when using this test. The first problem is that the questions are intrusive, asking the children about their life at home (e.g. the ‘cosiness’ of their home, if they feel close to their parents, etc.), and their sexual health, among other things. It’s difficult to see the relation between some of the questions and the eight indicators, like asking who chooses what the child wears, where they go to purchase clothes and food, and whether they like how their bedroom is decorated. Another major concern is the subjectivity of the questions and the bias present in interpreting the answers given by the children. Furthermore, the test is being carried out implicitly on the younger children. The named persons are using songs, games and flashcards instead of direct questions to get answers from the children on the indicators. This usually isn’t such a big deal because some tests are designed to be used in a subtle manner; however, parental consent is ignored in this case. These three problems lead to two bigger issues: the validity of the test and the ethical concerns raised with the use of this test. There is little to support the validity because the methods used are questionable, there is little to no control in the administration of the test, and there is a great deal of bias in the interpretation of the answers. With regards to the ethical concerns, the test is not only intrusive and implicit, but the parents are unaware that their children are being questioned on all aspects of their lives.
Regardless of the controversy of this new bill, at its core it seeks to protect and improve the lives of children. Where the bill fails in doing so is with its psychological testing. The validity and ethical concerns raised by the use of the test cannot be ignored if the data collected is to be used in any meaningful way.