Transformative action with and for children and youth in street situations

 

As stakeholders, researchers, and young people with lived experience on the streets who have been participants in and beneficiaries of research and members of research teams, we believe in and support the critical role research plays in enabling evidence-based decision-making to transform the health and social and economic well-being of children and youth in street situations.

The production of robust evidence from ethical and rigorous participatory research conducted with children and youth in street situations is vital to informing policies, practices, and designing and implementing evidence-based and contextually relevant health and social interventions. When a research project ends, the pathway from knowledge to action ideally involves disseminating and communicating findings widely, and sharing research outputs with academic audiences, stakeholders, policymakers, participants, and the broader street community. The goal of these activities is to spur research uptake, whereby research evidence can be used by policymakers, implementers, or practitioners to inform policy or practice. However, in the absence of research uptake, promising evidence-based practices, policies, and programs dissolve into the status quo.

Collectively, in the context of Kenya, we have become acutely aware of the demand from children and youth in street situations for sustaining projects and programs after a research project ends. We need to address this ‘know-do’ gap. The failure to translate what is known to work into sustainable care, interventions, and services for children and youth in street situations is eroding trust in the street community, leaving research participants wondering what the benefit of their participation was, and diminishing our ability to advance health equity and social justice with and for this population. When the research evidence remains unused by policymakers, stakeholders, authorities, program implementers, and international organizations to inform practice and policy, we fail children and youth in street situations. Yet in Kenya, policymakers and officials have often been apathetic and unresponsive on the issue of children and youth in street situations, and in some circumstances repressive, despite compelling evidence for avenues to support them.

No longer can we stand by as stakeholders, young people with lived experience on the streets, and researchers, and watch critical research evidence remain unused and cast aside. This is a call for advocacy upon the part of researchers and academicians, integration on the part of program implementers and practitioners, and a call for action upon the part of policymakers, authorities, and international organizations to collectively work together to prevent and respond to the plight of children and youth in street situations.

As researchers, we can no longer sit on the sidelines and wait for the evidence to speak for itself – we must advocate. We must join with the communities we work with to elevate and center their voices to staunchly advocate for social justice, equity, evidence-informed, and action-oriented responses from policymakers, authorities, and others to the issues facing children and youth in street situations. By strengthening our advocacy efforts, we have an opportunity for knowledge translation to foster political will, empathy, and motivation for collective action to transform how issues related to children and youth in street situations are approached – from one that is repressive to one that is rights-based and evidence-informed. At the outset of any project, researchers working with children and youth in street situations should develop a comprehensive research uptake strategy. Stakeholders, authorities, policymakers, program implementers, practitioners, and the street community should be involved from a project’s inception through to its completion, to support policy and program development, and the translation of research findings into sustainable practice.

In alignment with a research uptake strategy, every effort should be made to integrate research into existing health, social, and community-based services. When embedded and integrated into existing systems, coordinated efforts can be made to continue to support participants after the end of a research project to advance their health and well-being. At the same time, evidence generated from research can be directly applied within these institutions and settings, to sustain interventions, programs, and policies when they are found to be effective.

Finally, responding to the crisis of children and youth in street situations requires collective, transformative, multidisciplinary, and cross-sectoral action from researchers, policymakers, civil society organizations, and children and youth in street situations. Far too often there is a lack of political and institutional will, scarce financial resources, and an absence of collaborative action to collectively enact change at scale. We urgently need action. We need to see children and youth in street situations’ rights upheld, and policymakers, authorities, and program implementers using research evidence to co-develop, implement, scale, and sustain holistic, child rights approaches to respond to health and social inequities experienced by children and youth in street situations and prevent street-involvement in the first place.

Only when this occurs, will we advance health equity and social justice with and for children and youth in street situations.

 

About the authors alphabetically by surname:

Lonnie Embleton is an Adolescent Health Advisor and Assistant Professor at the Arnhold Institute for Global Health and Department of Global Health and Health System Design at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Sheila Kirwa is a Social Worker and currently working as a Research Assistant for the Harambee study at AMPATH, Kenya

Dominic Makori is a Social Worker and Program Manager at Beruham Organization in Eldoret, Kenya

Kathleen Murphy is a Doctoral researcher and Project Manager in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford

Mark Obuya is the Program Coordinator at the Inuka Pamoja Initiative in Eldoret, Kenya

Evans Odep Okal is a Program Manager at Inuka Pamoja Initiatve, Peer Researcher, and young person with lived experience on the street in Kenya

Duncan Ronga is a businessman, Peer Researcher, and young person with lived experience on the street in Kenya

We acknowledge Dr. Erica Di Ruggiero for her review and feedback on this piece. We dedicate this call to action to the late Dr. Paula Braitstein who undertook innovative, transformative, and action-oriented research for over a decade with street-connected young people in Kenya – may she live on and shine bright in all of us.

Competing interests: None

Handling Editor: Neha Faruqui

 

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