Why can interviewing ‘drop-outs’ be challenging?
It can be really difficult to make contact with individuals who have stopped taking part in a service. NSPCC evaluators told me about a range of reasons for this.
Firstly, there is a negative association with the term ‘dropping out’, which may mean that some individuals feel they are at fault for not being able to complete the programme. This means they may be reluctant to talk to an evaluator. Likewise, practitioners may feel that they didn’t do enough for the service user - or they may think that the user disengaged for personal reasons (rather than a barrier that was part of the service).
Evaluators and practitioners sometimes felt it wasn’t appropriate to contact service users, for example if a family were currently experiencing a traumatic event such as having a child being taken into care. Evaluators also told me about instances where it would be potentially dangerous to contact an ex-service user, for example some of the women who stopped taking part in DART™ had re-entered a relationship with an abusive partner. Therefore contacting them about the service could put them at risk.
What I found most surprising from my discussions with evaluators was that the main barrier to interviewing people who had withdrawn from a service wasn’t a lack of cooperation from the service users themselves, but instead a lack of capacity or resources to set up and conduct the interviews. It’s harder to gain contact with people who have left a service, and more difficult to find suitable places to carry out an interview. This means it takes more time to set up an interview than it does with those that are already attending a service centre regularly. Researchers and evaluators said that if they had been more strategic in their planning they would have been more able to schedule in interviews with those that hadn’t finished a programme. They said that in the future they would try to build an early rapport with service centres to help set the scene for these interviews to go ahead.