While Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) is an approach of growing interest in social welfare scholarship, less work has contemplated the transformative potential of child-driven methods and participatory ethics for addressing social and racial inequality. This paper begins to address this gap through a detailed explanation of a YPAR initiative with children in the streets and other contexts of exploitation and violence in Uganda. This YPAR initiative was funded by the Bernard Van Leer and Oak Foundations as the qualitative counterpart of the Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS) led by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the global alliance ‘Together for Girls’ between 2016-2017. The research objective was to ground the national survey findings in the everyday lived experiences of violence perpetrated against children surviving in the most marginalized spaces of Ugandan society.
This qualitative study was conducted within a YPAR framework and consisted of participant observation in key street-connected study sites in Kampala (yielding 35 field diaries by youth researchers), 52 semi-structured interviews, 4 focus groups, and 31 photo-elicitation interviews following auto-photography exercises with three subgroups of children outside of households. These subgroups included street-connected children (40 participants in total), sexually exploited children (19 participants in total) and children subjected to labor exploitation/‘domestic workers’ (34 participants in total). Each method was employed to address the particular context of exploitation and violence within each subgroup. All participant recruitment, data collection, analysis and dissemination activities were led by the youth researchers involved in the project, including four street-connected youth between the ages of 16 – 25 and two university-trained youth researchers who provided training and technical support throughout the research. Data analysis involved both child-led approaches, including manual coding and participatory data analysis workshops, and exploratory and axial coding cycles supported by NVIVO11.
Findings: The results are presented in two main sections exploring first the transformative potential of child-driven methods and second what children flagged as urgent recommendations on VAC for policy makers. The YPAR process documented experiences of violence perpetrated by family members, police officers, city council workers, business owners, street vendors, tourists, bosses, and other individuals in the spaces these children and adolescents occupied. Axial coding in NVIVO11 revealed the following three most frequently mentioned forms of violence across subgroups: physical violence (487 references) followed by psychological violence (479 references) and sexual violence (197 references). Youth researchers generated a series of policy memos presented to key Ugandan policy makers and local child welfare organizations.
Conclusions and Implications:
The paper centers on children's voices and their recommendations for overcoming violence in order to challenge the extractive and adult-centric research practices employed in the implementation of the quantitative VACS in Uganda. We urge social work scholars to create spaces for sustainable YPAR movements, both in academic and policy arenas, and to pursue participatory initiatives that prioritize knowledge produced by children for the improvement of their lives.