Gerald Cochran and Professor Jini Roby, School of Social Work
Introduction and Background
Child headed households (CHHs) are homes lead by “…children [who] live alone and manage the household without guidance and economic support from adults” (Aspaas, 1999, p. 202). This definition may or may not exclude adults as residents of the home. Some CHHs have adults residing in the home, but the child most certainly is the leader and the responsible one of the home. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has spread across the African continent causing children to be left as orphans and/or left to care for themselves and others (Foster, Shakespeare, Chinemana, Jackson, Gregson, Marange, & Mashumba, 1995). However, HIV/AIDS is not the only killer among the people of Africa. Other epidemics, including malaria, are also taking a heavy toll as well (UNICEF, 2004).
In my review of the literature on CHHs, I found very little had been written about these children. The literature mentioned CHHs, nevertheless the information was meager. Thus, Dr. Roby and I envisioned a project to investigate this population. Specifically, we aimed to concentrate on those children who are not only members of households headed by children, but those children who are the actual heads of their home. With Dr. Roby’s guidance, I created an instrument to measure the life experiences of heads CHHs living in Mozambique, Africa. The instrument explored aspects of the child’s life ranging from education to abuse issues. With this, we felt that a sample of 100 children would allow a realistic view into the issues that might exist for these youngsters.
I arrived in Mozambique in May; however, I did not commence work for one month. This was due to the need to make local contacts and to wait for approval from the IRB of adjustments made to the instrument. Receiving authorization in June, I hired four local persons as research assistants to conduct the interviews. Two were located though Care for Life (CFL), the local NGO sponsoring the research, and the other two were located through contacts I made in the community. Each assistant was proficient in: 1) English, to facilitate communication with me; 2) Portuguese, the national language of Mozambique, and 3) Sena and/or other dialects used by the indigenous Mozambican people.
The goal was to locate and interview 100 heads of CHHs. One method employed to locate subjects was the infant orphanage with whom CFL works. This orphanage distributes provisions from the World Food Program. Children who head their homes can collect a measure of food and oil each month. The manager of this program gave me permission to bring my research assistants and interview children who came to collect food and who were interested in participating. The second method used to locate subjects was through the expertise of the research assistants. The assistants were local people familiar with and possessing connections within the communities. As such, my assistants went into neighborhoods using their own contacts to find subjects. At the conclusion of the interviews, subjects were asked if they knew any other children in the same position as the head of a home. Subsequently, a third method to locate subjects was through this referral type process.
The project resulted in 111 interviews of children who are the heads of their homes in Beira and in a few surrounding villages. To this point, all the data from the 111 instruments has been entered into SPSS and the majority of categories have been made to consolidate and organize the information collected. Currently, a few further categories must be created to consolidate and organize the more complex information. Next, the data will be analyzed and an article reporting the information will be written and submitted to academic journals.
This project was my first experience in doing international research with live subjects. With this, I learned many valuable lessons essential to conducting a project of this nature. The following will discuss ideas that would facilitate and assist researchers to conduct projects in international settings.
First, before one decides how to evaluate a problem within a country or culture, time should be spent within that country or culture by the researcher to obtain a clearer view of the problem. This would be in order to create an instrument capable of addressing the problem more comprehensively. I mention this because there were certain aspects of my instrument I initially saw as pertinent because of my own perceptions and literature I read. However, when I arrived in Mozambique, I soon realized if I had a more complete knowledge of the country, culture, problem, etc., I could have eliminated long or added other more pertinent questions.
Second, a dilemma arises with the payment of research assistants. I chose to pay my assistants according to each completed interview. This was due to my limited funds to compensate for such. An hourly wage or salary would have been more than could have been afforded. Due to the nature of payment, the assistants initially tended to be careless because of their rush to find subjects and complete interviews. This haste is understandable when one considers that the research assistants live in poverty themselves and are trying to survive amongst very harsh circumstances. Even so, I was forced to have them redo or just throw away some interviews. As well, I was obligated to accompany each assistant and approve each interview, consuming a great deal of my time. The other option, as mentioned, is to pay an hourly wage or salary. However, if one has these resources, this does not encourage productivity in workers—especially when the task given is onerous.
Third, with reference to the impoverished circumstances existing, this creates a desperate atmosphere for individuals living in local communities. When professionals and students go into these areas interviewing children about health, finances, nutrition, etc., as we did, the impression given is that assistance will follow. This was in spite of the explicit instruction that no such aid would follow. The idea of potential assistance leads some subjects to not be completely honest, and this in turn may skew the data collected. One instance was in a home we went to conduct an interview. Before the interview began, we discovered two able-bodied grandparents hiding in a back room. Again, one must not misunderstand; these individuals are trying to survive by any means they can and must not be looked down upon. However, researchers must be conscientious of these factors to guard the integrity of the information collected. In our case, we simply thanked them, restated they would not be missing out on any assistance, and politely excused ourselves.
Fourth, unknown to me, in Mozambique, the government is very sensitive to the type of information collected about its citizens. A consequence of this is there are institutional review board type processes one must undergo to obtain permission to conduct research. I was extremely fortunate to have been able to piggyback on work done by our sponsoring institution, CFL. However, if I had not had the CFL connection, and if they had not been conducting needs assessments at the time, my work could have been greatly retarded and/or possibly even discontinued before it began.
I faced these challenges throughout my time conducting research in Mozambique. Some of these difficulties were caused because of geographic location and others caused by the specific country in which the research was carried out; however, some were merely akin to managing research anywhere. Nonetheless, each item can be taken into consideration by one interested in researching an unknown problem in an unknown region. Of course, if one takes these things into consideration, this will not solve all the issues that may arise. Yet, if looked at and applied, these items may facilitate work of paramount importance.