5 first reads for studying street children

So, you want to learn about street-connected children. You sit down and do a quick Google Scholar search, or maybe you even go to your university library and type into the catalogue computer, "street", "child." After a few fractions of a second you discover that the literature on this topic is vast! You find this daunting. You start reading an article from the top - probably sorted alphabetically, or by year - and that nagging feeling emerges that maybe, just maybe, there's something out there just a little more interesting, relevant or rigorous. 

The rabbit warren of reading is inevitable and necessary for constructing good arguments and literature reviews. However, if you only have one day or an afternoon to get an overview, a few recommendations can save you a lot of time. For this purpose, here are 5 of the more general pieces of work on street-connected children.

1. State of the World's Street Children: Research (Thomas de Benitez, 2011)

Dr. Sarah Thomas de Benitez is currently the CEO of the Consortium for Street Chidlren (CSC). She obtained her PhD in Social Policy from LSE working with street-connected children in Mexico. This report is a review of literature on street-connected children between 2000-2010. Although it does not call itself a "systematic review", the report draws on over 400 pieces of research with street-connected children, making an effort to seek out literature produced by different disciplines and from policy, theory and practice perspectives. This is no small task since, as the article expresses, "street-connected children" as a population are referred to by various titles: children at risk, homeless children, trafficked children and so on.

The report is split into four parts; myth busting; the wider picture; policies and interventions; and, rights, laws and funding. Each section has a summary of gaps in the literature - a good place to start if you are developing a proposal for your own PhD.

2. At Home in the Street: Street Children of Northeast Brazil (Hecht, 1998)

This book is based on an ethnographic study carried out by Tobias Hecht during 3 years of fieldwork in Brazil. Do not be put off by this being a book and therefore too long to be a first read. Since this book is based on ethnographic research, it is completely captivating and you won't be able to put it down - not something you often hear about academic reads. This book is fascinating by the way it challenges our predisposition to "romanticise the poor" as it explains the tactics children use to survive on the streets through good use of their "clients" (the NGOs). The book also discusses why NGO projects may succeed or fail in their attempts to "rehabilitate" street-connected children, and explores the possibility that Brazil's family ideals may lead children to move to the street and prevent them from returning home.

3. The construction and protection of individual and collective identities by street children and youth in Indonesia (Beazley, 2003)

Don't be put off by the exceedingly dry and needlessly long title of this article. This is another engaging and perception-challenging ethnographic study by Dr. Harriot Beazley, now a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at University of the Sunshine Coast in Austrailia. This article delves into the life-world of street-connected boys in Indonesia and presents the conflicts children face when necessity pushes them to conform in order to survive. The children that Beazley works with brand themselves as the "Tikyan", a street-connected child subculture which proudly refuses help or sympathy and condemns complaining or begging. The article highlights the protection, support and independence that children gain from being part of the Tikyan community, while at the same time feeling lonely and trapped. The final page of this article reflects on the challenges of providing support to street-connected children who find their identity in independence.

4. Freedom and Autonomy of Street Children (Schimmel, 2006)

This article uses a very different slant to the former ethnographic studies. Noam Schimmel is a human rights researcher with a PhD from LSE and approaches the question of street-connected children from a legal and rights-based perspective. This article discusses some of the negative psychological consequences that children experience while living on the street, such as depression and suicidal behaviour. It also poses the question of whether living on the street can ever be considered a real choice for children whose life choices are so limited. Schimmel uses Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum's capabilities approach as a basis for his arguments and questions whether street-connected children are able to make decisions about what is best for them due to their "adaptive preferences." 

This is a great article for those who want a philosophical take on the question of freedom or to explore the theoretical arguments for a more hands-on interventionist approach to working with street-connected children. 

5. Surfing in the air: a grounded theory of the dynamics of street life and its policy implications (Conticini, 2008)

I know it's not good to have favourites, but this is one of my current best reads. After months of reading articles, books and reports on street-connected children, this article provided an "ah-ha" moment which completely changed the direction of my PhD. At time of writing, Alessandro Conticini was both a researcher and Head of Child Protection at UNICEF in Ethiopia. Conticini combines his practice-based perspective and academic training to write an incredibly comprehensive overview of children's "street careers." Conticini challenges all research that presents street-connected children in a homogenic way with his in-depth study of children's progression through different stages of a street career. For me, Conticini's findings make absolute sense and gave reason to my discomfort with all of my previous research hypotheses that were founded on street-connected children being a certain way. Conticini explains that street-connected children speak, act and live differently and have different needs depending on where they are on the street career continuum. This means that interventions that are targeted at just one projection of the "street child" are doomed to fail some if not most street-connected children.

Conticini's research suggests that that street-connected children tend to go through four stages during their street careers: acceptance, adaption, accustomation and dependence. Contincini advocates for interventions that recognise the diversity of children's capabilities and aspirations, while working from a foundation of trust and respect. 

Any other recommendations?

I've presented my top 5 first street-connected child reads, what others would you suggest for a researcher getting started? 


  • Beazley, H. (2003) 'The construction and protection of individual and collective identities by street children and youth in Indonesia.' Children Youth and Environments 13(1): 105–133.
  • Conticini, A. (2008) 'Surfing in the air: a grounded theory of the dynamics of street life and its policy implications.' Journal of International Development 20(4): 413–436.
  • Hecht, T. (1998) At home in the street: Street children of Northeast Brazil. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  • Schimmel, N. (2006) 'Freedom and Autonomy of Street Children.' The International Journal of Children’s Rights 14(3): 211–234.
  • Thomas de Benítez, S. (2011) 'State of the World’s Street Children: Research.' [Report] Consortium for Street Children.