Research Article: Towards a deeper understanding of parenting on farms: A qualitative study

Date Published: June 13, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Valerie Elliot, Allison Cammer, William Pickett, Barbara Marlenga, Joshua Lawson, James Dosman, Louise Hagel, Niels Koehncke, Catherine Trask, Lise Olsen.


Children living on farms experience exceptionally high risks for traumatic injury. There is a large body of epidemiological research documenting this phenomenon, yet few complementary studies that have explored the deep underlying reasons for such trends. Fundamental to this is understanding the decision-making processes of parents surrounding their choice to bring children, or not, into the farm worksite.

To (1) document farm parent views of the risks and benefits of raising children on a family farm, and, (2) understand more deeply why children are brought into the farm worksite.

Interviews were conducted as part of a larger cohort study, The Saskatchewan Farm Injury Cohort. Subsequent to an initial mail-out question focused on parental decision-making, 11 semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with rural Saskatchewan farm parents. Interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim, then thematically analyzed using interpretive description methodology.

This parental decision-making process on farms fundamentally involves weighing the risks vs. benefits of bringing children into the worksite, as if on a balance scale. One side of this scale holds potential risks such as exposure to physical and chemical farm hazards, in the absence of full supervision. The other side holds potential benefits such as meeting family needs for childcare, labour, and family time; building work ethic and pride; and the positive impacts of involvement and responsibility. Decision-making ‘tips the scales’, in part dependent upon parental perceptions of the risk-benefit trade-off. This ‘perceptual lens’ is influenced by factors such as: the agricultural way of life, parents’ prior knowledge and past experience, characteristics of children, and safety norms.

This novel qualitative study provides deep insight into how Saskatchewan farm parents approach a fundamental decision-making process associated with their parenting. The proposed model provides insight into the etiology of pediatric farm injuries as well as their prevention.

Partial Text

Children are vulnerable to traumatic injury on farms [1,2], yet the prevention of pediatric farm injuries has proven and encounter these hazards be a highly complex issue for both parents and safety professionals. Farms are unique settings that typically integrate both a hazardous worksite and a family home. Parental decisions made about children on farms must therefore involve considerations of occupational safety and health, as well as more general aspects of health in the developing child.

This study aimed to better understand farm parents’ views on the benefits and challenges of raising children safely on a family farm, as well as their decision-making processes regarding bringing children into the farm worksite. To do this, we conducted 11 semi-structured telephone interviews with parents to describe the influences and considerations that play into these decisions. This study provides a description of how some farm parents in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan decide when, how, and if to bring their children into farm work environments. Interview themes were used to develop three models illustrating the interacting, continually evolving complexities involved in these parental decisions. The first model (Fig 1) illustrates that parental decision-making involves weighing perceived risks and benefits as if on a balance scale; their perception of the risk-benefit tradeoff is what ‘tips the scales’ for a decision. The second model (Fig 2) illustrates parents’ perceptions that are influenced by their ‘perceptual lens’, shaped over time by many interrelated factors. The third model provides an integrated illustration of the first and second models, demonstrating the interconnected processes involved in the parents’ decision-making. These models provide a deeper understanding into the decision-making processes of these Saskatchewan farm parents and are proposed as a starting point for engaging with farm parents about these issues. Perhaps by listening to their viewpoint we can better inform effective interventions to prevent agricultural injuries to children on farms.

This qualitative study provides in-depth information to better understand the conditions under which children are exposed to farm hazards. It may also provide requisite information from which to engage with parents in developing effective interventions. Moving forward, the complex nature of this issue will call for a thoughtful and integrated approach that considers parental views as integral to the solutions. The findings may serve to bridge a gap between health promotion efforts and these parental views, an ultimately help to foster practical solutions that are acceptable to the farm community.




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