Creating the right setting
In-depth interviews with children should therefore be conducted in a setting outside the place of work, preferably a place where the child feels safe and comfortable. Unless the interviewer has a great deal of experience in interviewing children, it will also be necessary to build up the child's confidence in the person concerned. Training in working with children will also be needed because creativity is needed to elicit correct information.
Thus, interviewing children in depth, as opposed to asking broad questions, is best done over a period of time in a relatively unstructured and informal way. The ideal setting is an existing project in which (ex)-working children are participating, for example, a drop-in centre or an education programme.
If no such project currently exists, it is suggested that any attempt to collect in-depth information from the child workers at the employer's workplace or premises is postponed until it does. Here is a case where "action" should precede "research". However, there is no need to feel that the task is impossible. Some NGOs have set up projects with the twin purposes of action and research in mind, and have trained those who work with the children to collect information from them as part of their job.
Alternatively, researchers might identify - with help from social welfare departments and others - an existing institution such as a children's home where some children (child domestics or ex-domestics) are to be found, and conduct research among them. It cannot be stressed enough that in-depth qualitative research work with children, especially with those whose situation makes them especially vulnerable and predisposed not to trust adults, cannot be conducted by strangers in a cursory manner. The findings will be inaccurate and useless.
The interview process
In interviewing children about the effects of terms and conditions of work on their physical and mental well-being, it would be a good idea to seek advice from professional child care workers, as well as follow the suggestions below.
First, if you ask a child questions in a way which leads to a "yes" or "no", the child will probably answer accordingly. If you say: "Please tell me about....", or "Please describe to me...", you are likely to get more information. Similarly, sometimes a "leading" question such as "What do you think of ....?" or "What do you know (or "Do you know") about the difficulties (or other situation) at your school, or where you work, or with your employer, or at your home ...?", will result in more information.
Second, much information can only be gained indirectly.
Terms and conditions: A child will not understand these words very well. So ask him or her to describe the whole day's activities, from the moment he/she gets up in the morning, right through until bedtime. Questions can be included about what the employer says and does; and about meals, sleeping space, rest breaks and so on. From the very specific, the child could then be asked more general questions about visits from family members, holidays, outings, pay, and the like.
Effects on well-being: This is more difficult. As far as health is concerned, you could include "before" and "after" questions such as: "How does ...compare to ...at home?" (food, bedtime, getting-up time, aches and pains). For psychological impact, you could ask about "my happiest times", and "my saddest times", and about contact with friends and relations. The most important thing is to create an atmosphere in which the child feels sufficiently comfortable to tell stories about his or her intimate experiences and reveal his or her feelings. There may be some subjects - such as sexual abuse - which are especially hard to bring out. This is why time, trust, and the advice of child specialists are needed.
Bearing in mind the delicacy with which interviewing should proceed, work out ahead of time what kind of subjects are relatively easy to open up, and what kind should not be opened without caution. You can then proceed from one to another, depending on the child's reaction. For example, you can start with questions about tasks, pay, and "gifts" such as shelter, clothing, fare home, and medical expenses. Then proceed to working hours, where the child sleeps, food and care, how often he/she has a day off. From these responses you may spot natural openings to questions about the treatment the child receives and how he or she feels about it. If at any time the child becomes distressed, you can stop.
In addition to noting the child's responses to specific questions, you may also want to write down some of your observations: "observation' is a useful research technique. Immediately after the interview is over, write a few paragraphs about the child. If you are working with a colleague, the colleague could write the observation while the interview is going on. But in this case the colleague should be very unobtrusive and sit somewhere off to the side. If the interview is conducted in a separate room with just the child present, there should only be one adult interviewer or the child is bound to feel overwhelmed.
Have your observation headings ready ahead of time. For example: dress, cleanliness, facial expression, willingness to speak up, body language, signs of emotion, personality, ability to express him/herself. You may think you will remember all these things later when you read your interview notes, but very quickly one interviewee blurs into another.
Other in-depth techniques
Drawing, painting, acting out and story-telling are revealing methods of eliciting information. They are especially useful in cultural settings where people are not used to being bombarded with questions.
Many NGOs use these kinds of techniques within non-formal education programmes. In Indonesia, drama and role-playing are used as a strategy for "breaking the silence" when working with children and young people who are socialized not to speak up in front of adults.
Another technique is the focus group discussion. This is normally a semi-structured session with 6 to 12 participants picked for their special knowledge of the subject. Here, the participants could be child and adult domestics - split into two separate groups. Each group should have a facilitator trained in creating the kind of atmosphere which helps people speak up with confidence. A set of questions can be explored in depth.
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