The purpose of this work was to describe methods of retaining participants in studies of inner-city populations, including the timing and intensity of contacts; and to describe the characteristics of participants who did not complete all follow-up interviews and/or return all peak flow diaries in the National Cooperative Inner-City Asthma Study. A cohort study design was used involving hospital emergency rooms and community clinics in seven major urban areas. Participants included 1337 4- to 9-year-old asthmatic children and their caretakers. Nearly 89% of participants completed 3-, 6-, and 9-month follow-up interviews. The 15% of participants who completed a baseline interview on the weekends were significantly more likely to complete follow-up interviews on a weekend. The percent of follow-up interviews conducted in person increased over time from 5% to 8%. The percent of participants with complete follow-up increased as the number of contact names increased (86% with zero contacts, 91% with two contracts; p = 0.03, test for trend). Participants who required at least four phone calls to complete the 3- and 6-month assessment were significantly more likely to be black, have higher participant stress, and have a smoker in the household (p < 0.05). Multiple logistic regression suggests that higher social support and lower parental stress were both predictors of completed interviews. Within our study sample of inner-city minority participants with asthmatic children, only a small proportion of participants missed any follow-up interviews. Increased caretaker stress, decreased social support, and inability to provide several alternate contacts were all predictive of retention problems. Having a flexible staff, computer tracking, and face-to-face recruitment appear essential to achieving nearly complete follow-up within a population historically difficult to follow.