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Engaging children as (longitudinal) survey participants: Experiences from the Growing Up in Scotland study

Posted on 22 October 2015 by Line Knudsen, Senior Researcher .

So far most of the data collection on the Growing Up in Scotland study (GUS) – a longitudinal cohort study tracking the lives of around 10,000 children living in Scotland – has come from face-to-face survey interviews with the child’s main carer. However, as the children in GUS grow up, they themselves are of course best placed to talk about their experiences and what it is like to live in Scotland. At the age 8 interview in 2012, for the first time, we asked the children themselves to complete a questionnaire and they did this again at the age 10 interview.

Children this young cannot be treated the same way as adult survey respondents. Carrying out survey interviews with children throws up a number of challenges which require careful consideration (what topics to ask about, how to obtain consent, conducting the survey in an ethical manner, etc.). For us, an important parameter of success was that the interview was a positive experience for the children – and, ideally, that this positive experience would encourage both children and their parents to stay involved in the study.

What did we do?

We ensured that children were involved in the planning and development process – in the development of the questions and the documentation, as well as in helping us decide on the most suitable survey mode. All the survey questions and the survey leaflets were tested with children of the same age as children in GUS. The child interviews were conducted through ‘Audio-CASI’ (Computer Assisted Self-Interviewing). This involved the child answering questions on his/her own – questions were displayed on screen and also read out to the child via an audio recording. We made our final decision to use the Audio-CASI based on positive feedback from children who much preferred the using the laptop as opposed to the paper questionnaire: The children thoroughly enjoyed the idea of their answers ‘disappearing’ on the screen after they had typed them in, and they liked working on the computer.

We also developed dedicated ‘kids’ pages’ on the study website – including a quiz about what it’s like to grow up in Scotland based on data collected in earlier GUS interviews with the child’s carer.

Did it work?

Anecdotal evidence from our interviewers suggests that most children enjoyed taking part in the interview. Whether this positive experience of taking part in an interview at ages 8 and 10 will translate into a long-term commitment to the study remains to be seen but we feel we have made a good start.

However, we realise that GUS faces the challenge of keeping young people on board and engaged with the study as they enter adolescence. We will therefore be thinking about new ways to engage with them. This could be along the lines of what was done for the age 14 survey of the Millennium Cohort Study, such as setting up a Facebook page for participants, or producing something like an animation that explains the study purpose to participants in a straightforward way, including why it is so important they continue taking part. No matter what we decide to do, ensuring that young people enjoy taking part in GUS will continue to be a key priority.

Growing Up in Scotland is a Scottish Government funded longitudinal birth cohort study which currently follows two cohorts of children: c.3,500 children born in 2004/05 and c.5,800 children born in 2010/11. Since 2005, GUS has collected information from families on a wide range of topics, including the children’s health and development, their activities and diet, and, more recently, their experiences of school and relationships with peers.

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