Recruitment and retention of children in behavioral health risk factor studies: REACH strategies

Int J Behav Med. 2014;21(5):794-803. doi: 10.1007/s12529-013-9347-5.


Background: Children are a common target group in behavioral health research. Yet their recruitment into community setting studies poses challenges to researchers and little guidance exists on recruitment and retention methods.

Purpose: This study aims to present successful strategies for the recruitment and retention of children into behavioral health risk factor studies.

Method: Firstly, a literature search in various databases was undertaken for papers published 1990-2012, focusing on recruitment and retention methods used in community-based studies with children aged 3-18 years. Secondly, a Delphi study was conducted in 2012 with 27 international experts in the fields of child-related behavioral health risk factors to gather expertise and consensus on successful recruitment and retention strategies applicable in children.

Results: The literature review and Delphi study yielded a set of successful child recruitment and retention strategies, and examples for implementation. These are presented as strategies to Recruit, Engage and retAin Children in behavioral Health risk factor studies (REACH). Recognized strategies for successful recruitment and retention included building trustful relationships between researchers and study partners, parents, and children; having project champions; optimizing consent and follow-up procedures; offering incentives to study partners, children, and parents; minimizing participant burden; and designing feasible studies with cohesive research teams.

Conclusion: Using multiple REACH strategies is most promising for maximizing response rates and minimizing attrition of children in cross-sectional, longitudinal, and behavioral intervention studies in community settings such as schools, child care centers, and other youth-related organizations. Researchers can select the most suitable strategies based on their specific study design and requirements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delphi Technique
  • Epidemiologic Studies*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Parents
  • Patient Dropouts
  • Patient Selection*
  • Research Design
  • Risk Factors
  • Schools