Case Synopsis

A number of factors common to the post-migration context have been shown to negatively impact the lives of new immigrants to Canada. Within the Arab community in Ashcroft, certain factors such as sponsorship requirements, intergenerational cohabitation practices, financial dependence, language barriers, and cultural stigmas often act as risk factors, increasing the vulnerability of older adults to abuse. Caroline Rochester has recently accepted the research coordinator position for the Elder Abuse Project at Rudyard University. The goal of the study is to identify the key factors that increase the risk of abuse of elders in the Arab community. Once these factors are better understood, it will be possible to develop culturally relevant strategies to address the risks that are amenable to change.

Caroline’s team wants to collect qualitative data by organizing focus group interviews with community members; however, she is running into numerous difficulties conducting research with this hard-to-reach population. Mistrust of the research process and the absence of mutually beneficial relationships with the community have brought participant recruitment to a standstill. Moreover, the team’s failure to consider the cultural context of the population being studied has directly inhibited the progress of the project. It is clear that the current research methodology is not working and that a new approach is required. Caroline wonders what actions she should take to improve the research process.

The goal of this case is to introduce readers to a number of commonly encountered concerns when conducting research with hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations. Through the development of solutions to the problems faced by the protagonist, readers will become more familiar with the principles of community-based participatory research and gain an understanding of the importance of cultural competence in research practice.

Case Objectives

1. Recognize the effect of intersecting risk factors in increasing the vulnerability of specific populations to elder abuse.

2. Understand the application of focus group methodology when conducting qualitative research.

3. Identify strategies to recruit research participants from hard-to-reach populations.

4. Describe the importance of maintaining cultural competence in research practice.

5. Apply principles of community-based participatory research to improve project outcomes.

Case Study Questions

1. Why are older adults within the Arab community considered ‘hard-to-reach?’

2. Define ‘community-based participatory research’. What are the key principles of this research paradigm?

3. Create definitions of ‘culture’ and ‘cultural competency’ with your learning team. What aspects of culture should be considered when conducting research on elder abuse in Ashcroft’s Arab community?

4. How can the research team gain the trust of the focus group participants? Suggest some strategies.

5. Is the use of focus groups appropriate for this research project? What issues might arise from their use?


Community-based participatory research; cultural competency; elder abuse; hard-to-reach populations; intersectionality

Additional Author Information

Matthew Maelzer, BSc, MPH

Sepali Guruge, RN, PhD, Professor and Research Chair in Urban Health, Co-Director, Centre for Global Health and Health Equity

Amardeep Thind, MD, PhD, Professor



Recommended Citation

Maelzer, M., Guruge, S. & Thind, A. (2019). Reaching the Hard-to-Reach: Conducting Research on Elder Abuse in Toronto's Arab Community. In: Sibbald, S.L. & McKinley, G. [eds] Western Public Health Casebook 2019. London, ON: Public Health Casebook Publishing.