Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16977 Unanticipaterd Benefits of Recruiting Survey Respondents: Aging Irish Immigrants

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 9:00 AM
Independence E (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Elaine M. Walsh, PhD, Associate Professor, City University of New York, New York, NY
Brenda G. McGowan, DSW, James R. Dumpson Chair in Child Welfare Studies, Fordham University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: This study was initiated at the request of leaders in the Irish community in Queens, New York. They were upset that an elderly Irish immigrant had died alone in his home and no one knew he had died for a week. They hoped research could provide the data needed to advocate for needed outreach services for other aging Irish immigrants who may be at risk. Method: In response, we designed a needs assessment study that would require in person interviews with a sample of 400 residents of Irish descent over age 55. After design of the study, the immediate challenge became recruitment of appropriate survey respondents.

The survey is still in process; the findings will be reported in a future years. The abstract is being submitted now because we want to share what we have learned in the process of recruiting survey respondents. It does not meet SSWR's usual guidelines for abstracts, but it demonstrates the conference theme that “research can make a difference,” even in process. To recruit respondents we initially followed the customary methods of doing outreach. However, the community leaders who stimulated the study wanted immediate publicity and arranged stories to be run in both print and electronic editions of local Irish newspapers. Much to our surprise, the story about the research was picked up by the New York Times, other city newspapers, local radio stations, and by several newspapers and TV/radio stations in Ireland. Results: As researchers we have always worried getting publicity about the findings of our studies, not about their initiation. But this publicity not only encouraged numbers of potential respondents to call asking to be interviewed, it also provided a number of unanticipated requests, especially from Ireland.

Some have called, asking if we could locate or assist a lost relative who had immigrated to the States. Several of these requests directly met the study objectives of identifying immigrants who may be at risk. Other calls identified Irish immigrants with a range of service needs. This paper will describe the range of services we have tried to arrange or provided in response. To illustrate, a woman called asking if we could locate the grave of her brother who died 18 months earlier. The family wanted his body returned to Ireland. After many calls we learned he had been buried in the City cemetery, but his body could be exhumed, cremated, and brought to Ireland.

Conclusions and Implications: Our progress to date has demonstrated two important conclusions. One is that with support from the local community, advance publicity about a planned study can help enormously in recruiting survey respondents. The other conclusion is that when planning research about a vulnerable, ethnic population, the researchers should be prepared to provide or arrange for services that may be requested. This gives the survey the credibility needed in a population suspicious of outside researchers.

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