• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Thursday 23rd October, 2008

Support for teenage mums goes mobile

Even the most proven of proven programs aren’t much use unless the intended participants… well, participate. And, as anyone who has worked with teenage mothers, substance abusers, poor families, and other vulnerable groups will know, the biggest challenge is often just getting people to show up. Some programs try to make participation easier by taking the services to the client. Home visits are a particularly popular way of serving poor and teenage mothers because, as well as being more convenient for clients, they allow the home visitors to assess the home environment. But the home visit is no cure all. Program participants are as likely to live in overcrowded homes that afford no quiet space in which to discuss private matters. And, for some people, home visits are too intrusive and worrying.A recent US study considered the value of cell-phone support as a way of keeping in contact with hard-to-reach populations and collecting research data about them. Led by Robin Gaines Lanzi and Sharon Landesman Ramey of Georgetown University in Washington DC, the team recruited 65 low-income teen mothers. Half were randomly chosen to receive free cell phones for three weeks provided that they agreed to answer seven calls from the research team over the period and answer survey questions during those calls. Those not chosen to receive the cell phones answered survey questions in person on two separate occasions. In both cases, the survey questions focused on the daily lives and challenges of parenting.The researchers found no significant downside to collecting information over the phone compared with doing so in person. On the contrary, they identified several advantages including high participation rates, more detailed information on daily activities (including important information about potential abuse and neglect), and a reduction in the cost of data collection (the cost of cell phones and calls was less than the cost of multiple home visits). There were also some side benefits. For example, many participants lacked land-line phones, so they particularly appreciated the use of the cell phones.Lanzi and company conclude that in the right conditions cell phone contact can be an effective and cost-efficient way to support program participants and collect information. Indeed, they argue that is some circumstances it can make possible research and support services previously thought too difficult to sustain.• Summary of “Cell Phone Methodology for Research and Service with High Risk Mothers and Children” by Robin Gaines Lanzi, Sharon Landesman Ramey, Jennifer Burke Lefever, Kristi Carter Guest, Jane Atwater, and Kere Hughes in NHSA Dialog, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp58 – 66.

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