DOI: 10.1177/08862605241230088 ISSN: 0886-2605

“Children Are Like Vuvuzelas Always Ready to Blow”: Exploring How to Engage Young Children in Violence Research

Nataly Woollett, Nicola Christofides, Hannabeth Franchino-Olsen, Mpho Silima, Ansie Fouche, Franziska Meinck
  • Applied Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology

Children’s participation and inclusion in violence research, particularly in low- and middle-income country (LMIC) contexts, is scant and not well understood. To assess how young children can be engaged in violence research, 4- to 7-year-old children were recruited into our pilot study in a rural area of South Africa. Six interviewers, recruited from the community, were trained to complete cognitive interviews ( n = 24), interviewer-administered questionnaires ( n = 21), and qualitative interviews ( n = 18) with young children. Three focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted with interviewers. Findings from FGDs and assessment of interview performance highlighted that young children could feasibly and meaningfully appraise violence they experience and articulate their view in a research context. Art- and play-based approaches offered participants an easier and developmentally appropriate platform for communication, expression, and engagement, and asking directly about violence was acceptable. The ease with which children participated was determined both by their level of development and the sensitivity of the interviewers; thus, intensive training and mentorship were required over time to assist interviewers in understanding child development and mental health and increase recognition of these issues and their presentation. Interviewers critically engaged with personal values regarding children’s rights and voice in research, reflecting that some of the stories were difficult to listen to. They were able to use and value novel methods to facilitate the ethical involvement of young children to yield rich data. Without young children’s involvement and dynamic participation in violence research, the field will not have the evidence to build best practices, respond appropriately to the needs of this vulnerable population, and interrupt the intergenerational transmission of violence that develops in these formative years. Our study adds to the burgeoning evidence that young participants are vital to the research process and are valuable active contributors to understanding violence in LMICs.

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