Sustaining Engagement in Longitudinal Research With Vulnerable Families: A Mixed-Methods Study of Attrition

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The aim of this mixed-methods study was to investigate attrition at the age 10-year follow-up in a study of vulnerable children and their families living with low income following a two-generation preschool program in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Quantitative factors associated with attrition included: (a) food bank use; (b) unstable housing; (c) child welfare involvement; (d) unpartnered status; and (e) caregiver noncompletion of high school. Qualitative themes related to attrition included: (a) income and employment; (b) health; (c) unstable housing; (d) change of guardianship; (e) domestic violence; (f) work and time management challenges; and (g) negative caregiver–child relationships. Triangulation of quantitative and qualitative results occurred using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; families with unmet physiological, safety, belongingness and love needs, and esteem needs were more likely to attrite. Attrition in longitudinal studies with vulnerable families is complex, affected by frequently changing life circumstances, and struggles to access necessities of life. Strategies for retaining vulnerable families in longitudinal research are offered.

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