An underrepresentation of ethnic minority children in mental health care settings is consistently reported. Parents of ethnic minority children are, however, less likely to perceive problem behaviour in their children. Our hypothesis was that, as a result of ethnic differences in problem perception, referral to care by a child health professional (CHP) would be lower for 5- to 6-year-old (high-risk) children from ethnic minority backgrounds than for their peers from the ethnic majority (Dutch origin). For 10,951 children in grade two of elementary school, parents and/or teachers completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) as well as questions on problem perception (PP) and perceived need for professional care (PN). Referral information was obtained from the Electronic Child Records (ECR) for 1,034 of these children. These children had a high (>90th percentile) SDQ score, and were not receiving mental health care. CHP’s referred 144 children (14 %) during the routine health assessments. A lower problem perception was reported by parents of ethnic minority children (40-72 %) than by parents of the ethnic majority group (80 %; p < 0.001), but there were no ethnic differences in referral (OR range 0.9-1.9-p > 0.05). No ethnic differences were found for parental PN, nor for teacher’s PP or PN. Despite a lower problem perception in ethnic minority parents when compared to ethnic majority parents, no ethnic differences were found in referral of children with problem behaviour in a preventive health care setting.