Research with Children in Street Situations

  • Lewis Aptekar
  • Daniel Stoecklin


Research for street children and homeless begins accurate numbers. Once the objects of the study are clear we need to establish a valid procedure for choosing a random sample. One model is based on what is used for peripatetic groups. This begins with a clear definition of households, mapping high and low concentrations and taking a random sample of the map sectors. Potential problems include time of day the data is collected, who the data collector is, the difficulty of using standardized tests, and the importance of translation and back translation.

Another model, the Sao Paolo Count, begins with compiling a list of places where street children congregate. Then dividing the city into sectors where the subjects are found and organizing walking routes so they are all counted. Potential problems include double counting and that only a limited amount of variables, like gender and age, can be counted.

The count-recount method is based on sampling wild animals that were tagged, released and recaptured in two or more random samples. Lists of subjects from several different sources are scanned for repeating names. Multiple data collectors walk the streets that are identified as having populations. They asked the children to give their names, and other demographic information. They repeat the process. The results depend on the honesty of the responses.

Validity is research on children in street situations is problematic. The population have developed good skills in saying what they think wants to be heard. They lie about their ages, family back grounds, and reasons for being on the street, etc. Know that these children are likely to be experience subjects. It is helpful to multiple data collectors with different demographic characteristics (gender, age, expatriate vs. local, etc).

Expatriate researchers of street children should be accustomed to the host country, and work with host country researchers. They should know the basic values and belief systems of children in street situations, and proportionately sample sub groups, and compare data to show if children in street situations are worse or better off than their counterparts. Know that these children are likely to be experience subjects.

The best methods for research with children in street situations includes projective techniques such as open-ended sentence completions, human drawings, drawings of mental maps, photographic diaries, and performance related information. The mental status exam is introduced as guided observational tool. It is important to triangulate methods, avoid questionnaires or other paper and pencil tests that ask direct questions.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child asks researchers to involve, inform, and consult with children in any area of research. In participatory Action Research (PAR) children take over many research functions previously used only by adults.

A lack of longitudinal studies makes it difficult to know how they function as adults. There are research problems associated with the researcher collection and understanding of the data. Data should be put into the context of local culture and history. There are also ethical considerations, including the question of giving money.


Data Collector Participatory Action Research Homeless Youth Projective Technique Street Child 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Ahmadkhaniha, H., Shariat, V., et al. (2007). The frequency of sexual abuse and depression in a sample of street children of one of deprived districts of Tehran. The Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 16(4), 23–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alderson, P., & Morrow, V. (2011). The ethics of research with children and young people: A practical handbook. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Alteena, A., Brilleslijper-Kater, S., & Wolff, J. (2010). Effective interventions for homeless youth: A systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 38(6), 637–645.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aptekar, L. (1988). Street children of Cali. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Aptekar, L. (1990). Colombian street children: Gamines and Chupagruesos. Adolescence, 24(96), 783–794.Google Scholar
  6. Aptekar, L. (1992). Are Colombian street children neglected? the contributions of ethnographic and ethnohistorical approaches to the study of children? Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 22(4), 326–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Aptekar, L. (2004). The changing developmental dynamics of children in particularly difficult circumstances: Examples of street and war traumatized children. In U. Gielen & J. Roopnarine (Eds.), Childhood and adolescence in cross-cultural perspective and applications (pp. 377–410). Westport: Praeger Press.Google Scholar
  8. Aptekar, L. (2010). In the lions mouth: Hope and heartbreak in humanitarian assistance. Bloomington: Xlibris.Google Scholar
  9. Aptekar, L., & Ciano, L. (1999). Street children in Nairobi, Kenya: Gender differences and mental health. In M. Raffaelli & R. Larson (Eds.), Homeless and working youth around the world: Exploring developmental issues: New directions for child and adolescent development, Number 85 (pp. 35–46). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  10. Aptekar, L., & Heinonen, P. (2003, Spring). Methodological implications of contextual diversity in research on street children. Children, Youth and Environments, 13(1). Retrieved from:
  11. Ataöv, A., & Haider, J. (2006). From participation to empowerment: Critical reflections on a participatory action research project with street children in Turkey. Children, Youth and Environments 16(2), 127–152.Google Scholar
  12. Barker, G., & Knaul, F. (1991). Exploited entrepreneurs; Street and working children in developing countries (Working Paper No1). New York: Childhope.Google Scholar
  13. Bemak, F. (1996). Street researchers. A new paradigm redefining future research with street children. Childhood, 3, 147–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bhalotra, S., & Tzannatos, Z. (2003). Child labor: What have we learnt? (Social Protection Discussion Papers 27872). Washington, DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  15. Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic interactionism: Perspective and method. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  16. Berland, J. (1982). No five fingers are alike. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Cauce, A., Paradise, M., Ginzler, A., Embry, L., Morgan, C., Lohr, Y., & Theofelis, J. (2000). The characteristics and mental health of homeless adolescents: Age and gender differences. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 8(4), 230–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Christensen, P., & James, A. (Eds.). (2000). Research with children: Perspectives and practices (1st ed.). London: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  19. Christensen, P., & Prout, A. (2002). Working with ethical symmetry in social research with children. Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research, 9(4), 477–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Conticini, A. (2008). Surfing in the air: A grounded theory of the dynamics of street life and its policy implications. Journal of International Development, 20(4), 413–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. CSC (Consortium for Street Children). (2011). Street children statistics. Retrieved on-line at:
  22. D’Alanno, T. A. (2005). Homelessness in the Denver metropolitan area: A base line point in time study. Denver: Metropolitan Denver Homeless Initiative.Google Scholar
  23. Davies, M. (2008). A childish culture? shared understandings, agency and intervention: An anthropological study of street children in northeast Kenya. Childhood, 15(3), 309–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. de Benitez, S. (2011). State of the world’s children: Research (Street children series 2). London: Consortium of Street Children.Google Scholar
  25. Dewey, J. (1910). How we think. Washington, DC: Heath & Co Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. de Moura, S. (2002). The social construction of street children: Configuration and implications. British Journal of Social Work, 32, 353–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ennew, J., & Milne, B. (1989). The next generation: The lives of third world children. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  28. Ennew, J. (1994). Street and working children – A guide to planning (Developmental Manual #4). London: Save the children.Google Scholar
  29. Faulk, M. (2010). Exploring the perceptions of youth street migration Ii Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok. Thesis for MSW degree, San Diego State University, San Diego.Google Scholar
  30. Fujimora, C. (2005). Russia’s Abandoned Children: An Intimate Understanding. Westport: Praeger.Google Scholar
  31. Gurgel, R., et al. (2004). Capture-recapture to estimate the number of street children in a city in Brazil. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 89, 222–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gurung, H. (2004). Study of policies and programmes addressing the right of street children to education research report. Pokhara: Child Welfare Scheme UK.Google Scholar
  33. Hecht, T. (1998). At home in the street: Street children of northeast Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Heinonen, P. (2011). Youth gangs & street children: Culture, nurture and masculinity in Ethiopia. New York: Berghahn Press.Google Scholar
  35. Hong, D., & Ohno, K. (2005, July). Street children in Vietnam: Interactions of old and new causes in a growing economy (Discussion Paper, No. 6). Hanoi: Vietnam Development Forum.Google Scholar
  36. Huang, C.-C., et al. (2004). A comparative analysis of abandoned street children and formerly abandoned street children in La Paz, Bolivia. In Archives of Diseases in Childhood, 89, 821–826.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hutz, C., & Koller, S. (1999). Methodological issues in the study of street children. In W. Damon (Series Ed.) & M. Raffaelli, & R. Larson (Vol. Eds.), Homeless and working street youth around the world: exploring developmental issues (New directions in child development, Vol. 85, pp. 59–70). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  38. Hyde, J. (2005). From home to street: Understanding young people’s transitions into homelessness. Journal of Adolescence, 28, 171–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Iqbal, S. (2008). Street children: An overlooked issue in Pakistan. Child Abuse Review, 17(1), 201–209. Online: Wiley InterScience ( doi: 10.1002/car.1026
  40. Kerfoot, M., Koshyl, V., Roganov, O., Mikhailichenko, K., Gorbova, I., & Pottage, D. (2007). The health and well-being of neglected, abused and exploited children: The Kyiv Street Children Project. Child Abuse & Neglect, 31, 27–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kilbride, P., Suda, C., & Njeru, E. (2000). Street children in Kenya: Voices of children in search of childhood. London: Bergen and Garvey.Google Scholar
  42. Kissin, D., Zapata, L., Yorick, R., et al. (2007). HIV seroprevalence in street youth, St Petersburg, Russia. AIDS, 21(17), 2333–2340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Klein, M., Weerman, F., & Thornberry, T. (2006). Street gang violence in Europe. European Journal of Criminology, 3(4), 413–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Koehlmoos, T., Uddin, J., Ashraf, A., et al. (2009). Homeless in Dhaka: Violence, sexual harassment, and drug-abuse. Journal of Health, Population, and Nutrition, 27(4), 452–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Koller, S., & Hutz, C. (1996). Meninos e meninas em situacao de rua: Dinamica, diversidade e definicao (Boys and girls on the streets: Dynamics, diversity, and definition). In: Compiled Papers of ANPEPP (Brazilian National Association for Research and Graduate Studies in Psychology), 1(12), 11–34.Google Scholar
  46. Kovats-Bernat, J. (2006). Sleeping rough in Port-au-Prince: An ethnography of street children and violence in Haiti. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.Google Scholar
  47. Kudrati, M., Plummer, M. L., & Yousi, N. (2008). Children of the Sug: A study of the daily lives of street children in Khar-toum, Sudan, with intervention recommendations. Child Abuse& Neglect, 32(4), 439–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lamberte, E. (2002). Ours to protect and nurture, the case of children needing special attention. PhD thesis, De la Salle University, Manila, Philippines.Google Scholar
  49. Le Roux, J., & Smith, C. (1998). Causes and characteristics of the street children phenomenon: A global perspective. Adolescence, 33(321), 683–688.Google Scholar
  50. Leite, L., & Esteves, M. (1991). Escola Tia Ciata: A school for street children in Rio de Janeiro. Environment and Urbanization, 3, 130–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Libertoff, K. (1980). The runaway child in America: A social history. Journal of Family Issues, 1, 151–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lucchini, R. (1993). Enfant de la rue. Identité, sociabilité, drogue. Genève/Paris: Droz.Google Scholar
  53. Lucchini, R. (1994). The street children in Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro: Elements for a definition. Fribourg: Institute for Economic and Social Sciences, University of Fribourg.Google Scholar
  54. Lucchini, R. (1996). Sociologie de la survie. L’enfant dans la rue. Paris: PUF.Google Scholar
  55. Lucchini, R. (2007). “Street children”: Deconstruction of a category. In I. Rizzini, U. Mandel Butler, & D. Stoecklin (Eds.), Life on the streets. Children and adolescents on the streets: Inevitable trajectories? (pp. 49–75). Sion: Institut International des Droits de l’enfant.Google Scholar
  56. Lutjens, S. (2000). Schooling and clean streets in Socialist Cuba: Children and the Special period. In R. Mickelson (Ed.), Children on the streets of the Americas (pp. 55–65). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  57. Malinowski, B. (1926). Crime and custom in Savage Society. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.Google Scholar
  58. Marquez, P. (1999). The street is my home: Youth and violence in Caracas. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Mathur, M., Rathore, P., & Mathur, M. (2009). Incidence, type and intensity of abuse in street children in India. Child Abuse and Neglect, 33(12), 907–913.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. McBurney D. (1994). Research Methods. Pacific Grove, California: Brooks/Cole.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Mickelson, R. (Ed.). (2000). Children on the streets of the Americas. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  62. Moberly, C. (1999). The “voluntary separation” of children in Angola: Recommendations for preventive strategies. In Prevention of street migration: Resource pack. Cork: Consortium for Street Children/University College Cork.Google Scholar
  63. Morrow, V. (2008). Ethical dilemmas in research with children and young people about their social environments. Children’s Geographies, 6(1), 49–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Mtonga, J. (2012). On and off the streets: Reasons why street children escape institutional care and their survival on the streets. Unpublished Master’s Degree. Trondheim: Norwegian Centre for Child Research (NOSEB).Google Scholar
  65. Nieuwenhuizen, P. (2006). Street children in Bangalore, India: Their dreams and future. Antwerp: Het Spinhuis Publishers.Google Scholar
  66. Nieuwenhuys, O. (1994). Children’s life worlds: Gender, welfare and labor in the developing world. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  67. Njord, L., et al. (2010). Drug use among street children and non-street children in the Philippines. Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health, 22(2), 203–211. Honolulu: Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium for Public Health/Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  68. Palusci, V., Wirtz, S., & Covington, T. (2010). Using capture-recapture methods to better ascertain the incidence of fatal child maltreatment. In: Child Abuse and Neglect, 34(6), 396–402. Amsterdam: Elsevier, B. V.Google Scholar
  69. Panter-Brick, C., Todd, A., & Baker, R. (1996). Growth status of homeless Nepali’s boys: Do they differ from rural and urban controls? Social Science & Medicine, 43(4), 441–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Paradise, M., & Cauce, A. (2002). Home street home: The interpersonal dimensions of adolescent homelessness. The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, 2(1), 223–238.Google Scholar
  71. Rizzini, I., Mandel-Butler, U., & Stoecklin, D. (Eds.). (2007). Life on the streets. Children and adolescents on the streets: Inevitable trajectories? Sion: Institut International des Droits de l’enfant.Google Scholar
  72. Reynolds, P. (1991). Dance civet cat. Child Labour in the Zambezi Valley. London: ZED (with Ohio University Press and Baobab Publications).Google Scholar
  73. Robertson, M., & Toro, P. (1999). Homeless youth: Research, intervention, and policy. In L. Fosburg & D. Dennis (Eds.), Practical lessons: The 1998 national symposium on homelessness research (pp. 3-1–3-32). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  74. Rosemberg, F. (2000). From discourse to reality: A profile of the lives and estimates of the number of street children and adolescents in Brazil. In R. Mickelson (Ed.), Children on the streets of the Americas (pp. 118–135). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  75. Sauve, S. (2003). Changing paradigms for working with street youth: The experience of Street kids international. Children, Youth, and Environments, 13(1). Retrieved August 25,
  76. Schaffner, L. (1999). Teenage runaways: Broken hearts and “bad attitudes”. New York: Haworth Press.Google Scholar
  77. Schrader, A., & Veale, A. (1999). Prevention of street migration. Resource pack. London: Consortium for Street Children.Google Scholar
  78. Stoecklin, D. (2000). Enfants des rues en Chine [Street children in China]. Paris: Karthala.Google Scholar
  79. Stoecklin, D. (2007). Children in street situations: A rights-based approach. In I. Rizzini, U. M. Butler, & D. Stoecklin (Eds.), Life on the streets. Children and adolescents on the streets: Inevitable trajectories? (pp. 77–97). Sion: Institut International des Droits de l’enfant.Google Scholar
  80. Stoecklin, D. (2009a). L’enfant acteur et l’approche participative. In J. Zermatten & D. Stoecklin (Eds.), Le droit des enfants de participer. Norme juridique et réalité pratique: contribution à un nouveau contrat social (pp. 47–71). Sion: IUKB/IDE.Google Scholar
  81. Stoecklin, D. (2009b). Réflexivité, participation et capabilité. In J. Zermatten & D. Stoecklin (Eds.), Le droit des enfants de participer. Norme juridique et réalité pratique: contribution à un nouveau contrat social (pp. 75–109). Sion: IUKB/IDE.Google Scholar
  82. Stoecklin, D. (2013, November). Theories of action in the field of child participation. In search of explicit frameworks. Childhood. Issue 4, pp. 443–457.Google Scholar
  83. Stonge, J. (2000). The education of homeless children and youth in the United States: A progress report. In R. Mickelson (Ed.), Children on the Streets of the Americas (pp. 66–76). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  84. Swart, J. (1990). Malunde: The street children of Hillbrow. Witwatersrand: Johannesburg.Google Scholar
  85. Taçon, P. (1981). MyChild minus two. Unpublished UNICEF report.Google Scholar
  86. Taçon, P. (1985). A UNICEF response to the needs of abandoned and street children. Geneva: UNICEF.Google Scholar
  87. Tanon, F., & Sow, A. (2010). Unaccompanied migrant minors from Africa: The case of Mauritania. Paper presented at: Seminar on youth migration and transitions to adulthood in developing countries, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.Google Scholar
  88. Thapa, K., Ghatane, S., & Rimal, S. P. (2009). Health problems among the street children of Dharan municipality. Kathmandu University Medical Journal, 7(3): Issue 27, 272–279.Google Scholar
  89. Tronchet-Pradhan, C. (2011). Participation in the child and youth clubs of Nepal and experience of non-discrimination and equality rights. A field testing with the kaleidoscope of experience. Thesis for the Master of advanced studies in children’s rights. Sion: IUKB.Google Scholar
  90. US Department of State (US-DOS). (2005). Human Rights Report 2004, Bangladesh. Washington, DC: US-DOS. Google Scholar
  91. Uvin, P. (1998). Aiding violence: The development enterprise in Rwanda. Boulder: Kumarian Press.Google Scholar
  92. Veale, A. (1996). An empirical and conceptual analysis of street children in Sudan and Ethiopia. PhD dissertation, University College Cork, Cork.Google Scholar
  93. Veale, A., Aderfrsew, A., & Lalor, K. (1993). A study of street children in four regional towns in Ethiopia. Report for UNICEF in conjunction with the Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs, Ethiopia. Cork: University College Cork.Google Scholar
  94. Veale, A., & Dona, G. (2003). Street children and political violence: A socio-demographic analysis of street children in Rwanda. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 253–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Whitbeck, L., & Hoyt, D. (1999). Nowhere to grow: Homeless and runaway adolescents and their families. Youth & Society, 22(1), 109–125.Google Scholar
  96. Williams, N., Lindsey, E., Kurtz, P., & Jarvis, S. (2001). From trauma to resilience: Lessons from former runaway and homeless youth. Journal of Youth Studies, 4(2), 233–253.Google Scholar
  97. World Vision. (1998). Child-headed households in Rwanda: A qualitative needs assessment. Technical report. Kigali/London: World Vision Rwanda and World Vision UK.Google Scholar
  98. Wright, J., Kaminsky, D., & Wittig, M. (1993). Health and social conditions of street children in Honduras. American Journal of Disabled Children, 147, 279–283.Google Scholar
  99. Young, L., & Barrett, H. (2001). Issues of access and identity: Adapting research methods with Kampala street children. Childhood, 8(3), 383–395.Google Scholar
  100. Zhang, Q., & Yang, H. (2002). The situations and relief countermeasures towards street children in China. Social Welfare, 9, 18–22.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lewis Aptekar
    • 1
  • Daniel Stoecklin
    • 2
  1. 1.San Jose State UniversitySan JoseUSA
  2. 2.University Institute Kurt Bösch (IUKB)SionSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations