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Getting it right from the start: Recruitment and retention strategies from conception onwards

Zara Le Roche

Interest in prospective longitudinal birth cohorts (LBCs), and ethical participatory research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians has grown. Despite numerous LBCs conducted with a focus on this population’s health profile, methodological strategies for recruitment and retention have not been reviewed. Hence, this systematic review synthesises existing literature regarding recruitment and retention strategies with a targeted focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in LBCs.

PubMed and Medline were searched for Australian LBCs using discrete and replicable search terms. An international and an Australian LBC registry supplemented the database search. The inclusion criteria of studies were (i) commenced data collection after the year 1970 (ii) collected data within first year after birth (iii) recruited the cohort from Australia only (iii) text was English (v) had a minimum two waves of data collection (iv) recruited participants prospectively. Exclusion criteria used excluded studies that (i) were randomised control trials (RCT) (ii) were non-RCT with interventions or service evaluations (iii) selected populations with non-typical health profiles (iv) primarily evaluated maternal health. The quality of studies was assessed using modified STROBE guidelines. A thematic analysis of texts was performed to provide in-depth insights into recruitment and retention practices.

A total of 43 studies were found. When culturally considerate methods of engagement are applied to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, recruitment and retention rates are comparable with non-Indigenous people. Successful strategies include early and on-going community consultation, incorporating cultural-constructs of family into study design, employing Aboriginal research assistants, and maintaining relationships with communities between follow-ups.

This study showed that effective recruitment and retention strategies into prospective longitudinal birth cohorts considered the worldviews of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences. These results have the potential to be translated into a reference guide for future LBC study design protocols.


Key Words: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Recruitment, Retention, Longitudinal Birth Cohorts