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Keywords:

  • children's environmental health;
  • community consultation;
  • community engagement;
  • community-based participatory research

Abstract

Community engagement strategies and skills can build trust and reduce historical mistrust between researchers, communities, and populations being studied, as well as contribute to the quality of study designs, methods, and dissemination of findings. This review paper discusses why community engagement is of increasing importance in children's environmental health research, describes models and the continuum of methods that are used, and discusses their challenges and benefits. Two case studies, representing different study designs and using different community engagement models and methods, and lessons learned from these cases, are described. Community engagement methods are best understood on a continuum based on the degree to which community members or representatives of community populations are involved in research planning, decision-making, and dissemination. Methods along this continuum include community consultation, community-based participatory research, and community consent to research. Community engagement knowledge and skills are especially important in the conduct of children's environmental health research, with its emphasis on reducing environmental risks at the community level, the increasing focus on genetics and gene-environment interactions, and the importance placed on translation of scientific results into behaviors and policies that protect the community. Across study designs, whether qualitative survey research, an observational epidemiology study, or a randomized intervention trial, understanding community interests, norms, and values is necessary to describe attitudes and behaviors of specific population groups, build evidence of cause and effect between environmental exposures and health, and demonstrate the effectiveness of interventions to reduce risks. Mt Sinai J Med 78:85–97, 2011. © 2011 Mount Sinai School of Medicine