Contemporary Challenges in School Recruitment for Criminological Survey Research: Lessons From the International Self-Report Delinquency Study in England, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States

Date01 November 2019
Published date01 November 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2019, Vol. 35(4) 386 –409
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986219870940
Contemporary Challenges
in School Recruitment
for Criminological Survey
Research: Lessons From the
International Self-Report
Delinquency Study in England,
Germany, the Netherlands,
and the United States
Renske S. van der Gaag1,2, Lauren Herlitz3,4,
and Mike Hough5
Several multiwave cross-national surveys have experienced drops in school
participation for youth health and risk behavior (HRB) surveys in Western European
countries. This article considers explanations for the challenge in recruiting schools
for surveys in England, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States and the
most important lessons learned during school recruitment for the third wave of
the International Self-Report Delinquency Study in these four countries. Comparing
school response rates for international academic surveys with those focused on HRB,
schools have been increasingly less likely to participate in HRB surveys over the
past two decades. However, considerable variation within and across surveys and
countries suggests there are numerous influences on school recruitment, and there
may be facilitators on which researchers could capitalize. We conclude that when
1Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands
3London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK
4University of East London, UK
5Birkbeck, University of London, UK
Corresponding Author:
Renske S. van der Gaag, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Faculty of Social
Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam 1081 HV, The Netherlands.
870940CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219870940Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justicevan der Gaag et al.
van der Gaag et al. 387
planning future school-based HRB surveys, researchers should consider multiple
strategies to engage schools from the outset, tailored to regional and national settings.
school recruitment, cross-national research, youth health, youth risk behavior, school
response rates
Adolescence is a period of extensive physical and social change characterized by
increased risk behaviors and peer pressure, and diminishing parental influence;
choices made during adolescence can affect young people’s health and well-being in
later life (Kleinert, 2007; Viner et al., 2012). Schools are an attractive and cost-effec-
tive setting for conducting research on youth delinquent behavior and other youth risk
behaviors (Claudio & Stingone, 2008; Marshall, 2010). Compulsory schooling up to
age 16 in most countries ensures the presence of young people of nearly all socioeco-
nomic and cultural backgrounds, including groups that are often underrepresented in
research (Bjarnason, 1995; Smit, de Zwart, Spruit, Monshouwer, & van Ameijden,
2002). With high individual response rates common in school surveys (Smit et al.,
2002), this method can achieve representative samples that allow generalization to
the larger school-age population. Moreover, particularly for sensitive research topics,
such as delinquent behavior, sexuality, or drug use, adolescents associate school sur-
veys with more privacy, anonymity, and confidentiality than surveys administered at
home (Gfroerer, 1985; Michaud, Delbos-Piot, & Narring, 1998; Smit et al., 2002).
They also appear to be more effective in eliciting accurate prevalence rates when
seeking self-reported engagement in activities such as illicit drug use (cf. Fendrich &
Johnson, 2001).
School surveys are frequently used in large multiwave cross-national studies on
youth health and risk behavior (HRB), such as the International Self-Report
Delinquency Study (ISRD; Junger-Tas et al., 2012), the Health Behavior in School-
Aged Children study (HBSC; Currie, Nic Gabhainn, & Godeau, 2009), and the
European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD; Hibell et al.,
2012). Starting in the 1980s and 1990s, these studies used school surveys to chart
trends in adolescent behavior and development within and across countries over time,
test the universality of developmental and behavioral theories, and explore the effects
of different policy approaches and social interventions for preventing health problems
and delinquent behaviors (Junger-Tas et al., 2012; Roberts et al., 2009). High-quality
cross-national comparisons require standardized research designs and methods and
high individual and school response rates to ensure reliable and representative data. A
sample unrepresentative of the school-age population could result in biased preva-
lence rates (Micklewright et al., 2012).
As coordinators of the third wave of the ISRD (ISRD-3) in England and the
Netherlands, an international school-based survey on youth delinquent offending

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