Data collection is more than just numbers and statistics. When collecting data on youth and families experiencing homelessness or dealing with familial conflict, a significant and frequently overlooked challenge arises: the need to navigate emotional labour. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of emotional labour during the data collection phase of research, drawing from our experience with the Family and Natural Supports (FNS) intervention program. 

Case Study: Family and Natural Supports Intervention 

The FNS intervention aims to prevent youth homelessness by improving relationships within families and among chosen natural supports, including meaningful adults in a young person’s life. Through the Making the Shift Demonstration Lab’s FNS project, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness researchers collect data from young adults and their chosen family members/natural supports to understand their goals and experiences within the program. However, to achieve these objectives, our researchers are faced with complex emotions, discussions and considerations that must be approached with the utmost sensitivity.  

Understanding Emotional Labour

Emotional labour refers to the effort required to manage and regulate one's emotions in a professional setting. In community-based research with at-risk youth and families, emotional labour involves the researcher's ability to navigate and address the emotions, fears, and anxieties that participants may experience during the research process. It is an often underestimated yet essential to keep top of mind when doing research.  

Engaging with a young person who is at-risk of experiencing homelessness due to family conflict can be a complex and emotionally challenging task. Even after being separated from their family and the conflict, the young person may still experience feelings of isolation and confusion as they try to navigate life on their own terms. It is important for researchers to consider these emotions when speaking with the youth. On the other hand, when communicating with a family member or natural support, it is important to acknowledge their desires for the young adult and the limitations imposed by their current situation.  

It can be emotionally taxing to hear about the hardships and challenges that at-risk youth and families face. Researchers must be prepared to cope with their own emotional reactions while maintaining professionalism and taking care of their well-being. By recognizing and respecting the emotional labour needed in these situations, researchers can create a more inclusive and ethical research environment, ultimately leading to more meaningful and impactful insights. 

Lessons Learned

Dealing with emotional labour when working with at-risk youth and families can be challenging. Based on our experiences with the FNS intervention, we have developed a list of tips to help researchers navigate this aspect of their work more effectively: 

1. Empathy, Active Listening, and Emotional Support: 

  • Cultivate empathy and actively listen to participants. Try to understand their perspectives, feelings, and experiences without judgment. Reassure them that their experiences are valuable. 
  • Practice reflective listening, which involves paraphrasing and summarizing what participants say to demonstrate that you are genuinely engaged and value their input. 
  • Offer emotional support when necessary, but be mindful not to overstep boundaries or act as a therapist. Connect participants with appropriate resources, such as support services or counselling, if they need professional help. 

2. Establish Boundaries: 

  • Recognize your own emotional boundaries and limits. Be aware of when you might feel overwhelmed or emotionally drained and have strategies to cope with these emotions. 
  • Understand that it's okay to take breaks and seek support when needed to prevent emotional burnout. Burnout is a genuine concern, and it's essential to have support systems in place to manage the emotional toll of this work. 
  • Empower your participants to establish their own boundaries. Prioritize Informed Consent and remind participants that they have the option to withdraw their involvement at any point without consequences and that they only need to share what they feel comfortable sharing.  

3. Self-Care and Debriefing: 

  • Practice self-care regularly, including exercise, mindfulness, or other stress-reduction techniques, to maintain your own emotional resilience. 
  • Seek support from colleagues, supervisors, or mental health professionals if you find the emotional labour particularly challenging. 
  • Regularly meet with supervisors or mentors to discuss your experiences and any emotional challenges you face in your research. Supervision can help you process emotions and receive guidance.  
  • Conduct debriefing sessions with your research team to share and process emotional experiences collectively.  
  • Maintain a journal or documentation of your emotional experiences and reflections during the research process. This can help you better understand your own emotional responses and growth as a researcher. 

4. Trauma-Informed Practices, Training and Education: 

  • Train yourself and your team in trauma-informed research practices. Understand how trauma can affect participants and develop strategies to minimize potential re-traumatization. 
  • Stay updated on the latest research and best practices in community-based research with at-risk populations. Participate in relevant training programs and workshops to improve your skills and awareness. 

In conclusion, emotional labour is an inherent part of community-based research, and managing it effectively is essential for the success of a research project and the well-being of the researchers involved. By approaching this type of work with sensitivity and care, it is possible to conduct meaningful research while respecting the emotional experiences of at-risk youth and their families. Keeping participants' emotional experiences top of mind reminds us that behind every data point lies a human experience worth understanding.   

To learn more about the Family and Natural Supports (FNS) visit: or email COH & AWHC