Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Boys and Girls Club in Roger Williams Public Housing

This is Roger Williams Public Housing, which is located in Mobile. We spent about two weeks recruiting and surveying kids here. We got very close to many of the kids at the Boys and Girls Club, where we administered the survey. Roger Williams is one of the most crowded housing projects in Mobile and has a very high crime rate. The housing units were similar to Happy Hills but were brick with about four housing units per building. Many of the families from Happy Hills will relocate to Roger Williams after they shutdown Happy Hills in the next year. I have no idea how more families can fit into these congested, old brick buildings without building more units. No one seems to know.

During recruitment, several interns passed by a recent murder scene that took place in one of the units. Everyone in the neighborhood kept talking about how the heat made young people do crazy things. It is interesting how aggression and crime are constantly connected to the extreme summer heat. However, I see some truth to this. The heat is extremely uncomfortable, and as a result, you constantly feel irritable. This is a picture of the crime scene:

Before we begin the survey each day, we drop-off reminder cards at the houses of every kid signed-up to take the survey that day. While dropping off reminders our first day, we saw a freshly burned house off the main street. I am surprised how desensitized I am to burned houses now. They are everywhere and the community just continues about their daily business around these burned plots.

While we drop-off reminders, mothers usually say that their kids are already waiting at the survey site. Kids are scheduled for a specific day and time slot during recruitment to help us plan for the amount kids we will be surveying each day. However, most of the time kids come the first couple of days in the morning. Once the word gets out, every kid and their mother is at the site trying to take the survey. We have a very "elaborate" system to see if the kid is who we surveyed in previous years and to make sure kids are not taking it multiple times in the summer. We have a master list of all the previous participants or newly consented participants, with their birthdate, street address and a column that contains the date that the young person took the survey. If this column is filled with a date, the youth is not surveyed. If they say a completely false birthdate, they can not take the survey. And if they are not on the list, they need to bring a parent to the site to consent them as a new participant.

We now take a day to process the consent paperwork, so we can cross-check the kid with school records. We are catching so many kids that "don't exist" this way. Either they have recently moved and are not in the records or they are fabricated because they want to take the survey again under an alias. While some kids may have dropped-out of school, we are able to look back at school records for several years and can usually find them. Additionally, the kids that recently moved are not ideal participants because they can not accurately answer the school connectivity and neighborhood violence questions for Mobile and Prichard area.

The moral of the story is that this is not an exact science, the IRB would never let us use photo IDs to help identify kids that are suppose to be de-identified, and forcing families to produce birth certificates is completely unreasonable. However, we did have a mother bring her children's report cards to prove who they were. So birthdates and middle names are our best defense against scammers. Here we are at the check-in table:

Imagine the perfect adolescent survey... kids are in desks facing forward, spaced apart from one another to ensure confidentiality. The room is completely quite except for the clear voice of the survey administrator reading each question. The room is a comfortable temperature with no other distractions, which facilitates complete participant concentration on the survey. Now imagine the exact opposite scenario and you have the survey environment in Roger Williams. Kids are at crowded tables lining the edge of the gym, where loud pick-up games of basketball are being played amongst young children screaming and running around. Survey participants are laughing about the questions, looking over at each other's answers because they are so crowded at the tables, while the survey administrator battles to be heard over the gym chaos, and constantly reminds the participants to keep their comments to themselves and eyes on their own surveys. This is the reality of the Mobile Youth Survey (MYS), and clearly this has a negative effect on how young people answer the questions. However, the alternative is missing this population all together. MYS goes were the young people are... neighborhoods the few researchers dare to enter.

We had so much fun playing with kids at the Boys and Girls Club, when we were not administering surveys. Here are a couple pictures of hanging-out with the kids:

I will end this post by sharing an inspiring piece composed by a six year old. One of our interns asked this girl what she would do if she were president. He wrote down her words displayed in the following picture (click on picture to enlarge):

The optimism, passion and resiliency of these children is inspiring. I am truly a better person because of the time I have shared with these children. It is a gift they have given to me that I will carry and cherish throughout my life.

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