Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Locating

06/01/2002

NORC has established and maintains a locating protocol that documents, in order of cost, the basic steps involved in locating people. The locating effort, critical to any projects success, is influenced by budget, schedule, IRB and/or OMB constraints, and the locating skills of the projects assigned staff. Therefore, emphasis is placed on centralizing the process before employing the more costly means of in-field locating. Depending on available resources, the centralization of locating can be in a central/home office or in the field (if locating experts equipped with computers that can access the relevant databases and the Internet are available). Centralizing this locating effort allows efficient access to the resources to do the preliminary work of checking phone directories, mailing addresses, contact names, employers, and other information. Field staff are then called on to personally visit the last known address and talk to neighbors, the mail carrier, and others. Interviewers document the results of each locating step on a Record of Calls. Many projects provide the field interviewers with a job aid, referred to as a Locating Checklist. It identifies the steps to be taken by the field in locating a respondent, listing the steps in order of cost. This greatly reduces duplication of effort.

The Seattle Study Experience

The respondents in the Seattle Study were first interviewed in their final month of eligibility for drug-addicted or alcoholic Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The baseline sample information included the identity of a payee to whom the prospective respondents SSI check was sent. Because many of the payees were agency staff, the interviewers often were able to work directly with the payee to determine when the respondent would be coming in to pick up the check. The agency often let the interviewer have space to interview the respondent at the time of that visit.

However, because of the nature of the sample, there were large numbers of respondents who were homeless. The field manager obtained a list of all the agencies that serviced the homeless and went in person to each place with a list of names. Interviewers made daily visits to many of these locations and eventually found many respondents. The field staff worked diligently to identify the extensive homeless network in the area; they asked homeless people questions such as where they slept, where they got their meals, and where they kept their belongings. This effort proved beneficial during the baseline interview as well as during the follow-ups, which were done at 6-month intervals to examine the effects of the programs termination on former recipients. During this process, the field staff found it is important to learn a respondents street name, because many of them do not go by their legal, given names out in the community. Field staff on this study believed it would be helpful, if possible, to obtain IRB/OMB approval for the interviewer to take a snapshot of the respondent that could be used during subsequent locating efforts.

Also, because all the respondents were in the study because their alcohol- and/or drug-related SSI benefits had been discontinued, another potential locating source was expected to be area taverns. The field manager in charge organized night-time locating trips into the areas of Seattle where the homeless gather. Two or three field interviewers would travel with the field manager into the core area of the city searching for respondents among those waiting in line for entrance into a shelter for the night, or among those patrons in the taverns and bars frequented by street people. These pub crawls, as the field interviewers called them, were very helpful in locating homeless respondents.

Prisons and jails were another valuable source for locating respondents. On the Seattle Study, a census of all the jails was available. Interviewers checked the list regularly looking for names that matched the pending sample list. Some interviewers were able to obtain special IDs after agreeing to a background check done by the jail. These IDs allowed the interviewers to come and go just as lawyers do, and their visits did not impact on the respondents allowed number of visitations. To access prisons, in some cases, the client for the Seattle Study had to complete the requisite paperwork before the interviewers could approach incarcerated respondents. On the D.C. Networks Study, a significant effort was made to gain access to the prison system by working closely with the D.C. Department of Corrections. One experienced field person on that study who was particularly effective was a private investigator before joining the interviewer and field management staff at NORC. Protocols related to working in jails and prisons vary considerably by state, so it is important to determine the kinds of access that interviewers will be allowed at the outset of the data collection period. Many states now have a Web site and/or telephone number for locating inmates.

On the Woodlawn Studies in which the original respondents were first graders enrolled in elementary school in an inner-city, predominantly African American urban neighborhood in 1966 and 1967, the locating challenges were enormous. The client had made interim contacts with some respondents, but much of the sample information was very old, so the field staff relied on intensive locating efforts in the neighborhood. They went to the neighborhood and tried to locate the oldest residents on the block, visited neighborhood churches to talk with long-time members, called people with the same last name living in the place of birth to look for relatives of the respondent, and mailed letters to every old address and every new address they found. With regard to the last step, they mailed again and again if not returned by the post office; their persistence often paid off as many respondents moved back to their hometown during the course of the fieldwork.

On the New York Minority Youth Study, a useful locating resource was the schools that respondents had attended. Because the baseline data were collected in the school setting, the client contacted the schools to obtain permission to contact them for locating information. The follow-up interviews were with a sample of inner-city African American and Puerto Rican adolescents and their mothers. Prison contacting was also helpful for this population.

On the D.C. Networks Study, where 62 percent of the respondents have a monthly income of $500 or less, 63 percent have been drug injectors for more than 21 years, and only 50 percent have lived in an apartment or house during the past 6 months  the locating challenges for follow-up have been intense. This is a study in which two outreach workers who are street wise and know a lot about the locations where drugs are sold and used, identify respondents in the streets and bring them into the site office to be interviewed. The experienced field staff on the study (four interviewers, a locating expert, and a field site manager) also work on the case, locating by phone or in the field, but they leave the locating in drug areas to the outreach workers.

Table 3-2 indicates some of the specific locating resources that were used during these representative studies.

TABLE 3-2:
Locating Methods Used
Locating Effort/Source Seattle
Study
Woodlawn
Studies
N.Y.
Minority
Youth
D.C.
Networks Study
Probation/parole officers x     x
Doormen/guards at building complexes       x
Known contacts, such as family members, case workers x x x x
Last known address x x x x
Jails/detention centers/prisons x x x x
Halfway houses x     x
Clinics x     x
Hospitals, regular and rehabilitation x     x
Drug treatment centers x     x
Known geographical areas for drug purchase/use x     x
Homeless shelters x     x
Schools     x x
Churches x x    
Food banks x      
Old neighborhood x x x x
Food banks x      
Needle exchanges x      

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