Background: Problem perception and perceived need for professional care are important determinants that can contribute to ethnic differences in the use of mental health care. Therefore, we studied ethnic differences in problem perception and perceived need for professional care in the parents and teachers of 5- to 6-year-old children from the general population who were selected for having emotional and behavioural problems.
Methods: A cross-sectional study with data of 10,951 children from grade two of the elementary schools in the Rotterdam-Rijnmond area, the Netherlands. Parents and teachers completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) as well as questions on problem perception and perceived need for care. The SDQ was used to identify children with emotional and behavioural problems. We included Dutch, Surinamese, Antillean, Moroccan and Turkish children in our sample with high (>P90) SDQ scores (N = 1,215), who were not currently receiving professional care for their problems.
Results: Amongst children with high SDQ scores, problem perception was lower in non-Dutch parents than in Dutch parents (49% vs. 81%, p < 0.01). These lower rates of problem perception could not be explained by differences in socioeconomic position or severity of the problems. No ethnic differences were found in parental perceived need and in problem perception and perceived need reported by teachers. Higher levels of problem perception and perceived need were reported by teachers than by parents in all ethnic groups (PP: 87% vs. 63% and PN: 48% vs. 23%).
Conclusions: Child health professionals should be aware of ethnic variations in problem perception as low problem perception in parents of non-Dutch children may lead to miscommunication and unmet need for professional care for the child.