I was recently asked about some important areas for future research on children at risk. While the the need for relevant thinking and models is obvious, perhaps three areas of needed attention would be:

1) The place of Scripture in our conversations about children at risk is an important area for future research. I believe that Scripture must take a privileged place in our research of children at risk. The Bible has a proven track record in guiding young people through their early years and is more recently being discovered as a book that can guide concerned adults in caring for children at risk (i.e. Child Theology Movement). Scripture should play center role in our Missiological engagement with children. Charles Van Engen contends that “we cannot have mission without the Bible, nor can we understand the Bible apart from God’s mission” (1996, 37). The Bible is the main source for mission and without its voice, I am afraid we will fail to understand God’s mission among wounded children. In a recent report on research topics by graduating doctoral students in the area of general missiology, Stanley Skreslet documents that over a ten-year period, only 43 out of 925 doctoral dissertations focused on the issue of Bible and mission (2003, 100). This notes that the focus of Bible and mission is sorely lacking in our mission programs and research. Research on children at risk and Bible were not even on the radar.

I think we are in need of asking: How does scripture speak into the different contexts where children at risk can be found today? I am suggesting that it is time we put forth a new set of questions to the Bible, inspired by our relationships with at risk children and youth. Scientist must review old data in a similar way. New instruments reveal new data and for our purposes, new questions reveal new answers (Yoder 1984, 70-71). In part, our mission programs should consist of allowing Scripture to speak into our particular context.

Andrew Kirk encourages people, when, interpreting Scripture, to listen to two voices, the voice of God (Scripture) and the voice (cry) of the people. This process will help us to combine the “universal nature and intention of the Christian’ foundation document with the particular reality of every situation into which the message and life of Christ comes” (2000, 14). Theology is a process that must combine the voices. Another voice that must be included in this dialogue is that of the reader or child worker. I believe dialogue or rather ‘trialogue’ is an important aspect of reading Scripture with children today. As Freire (1993) calls for a dialogical exploration between the student and teacher in his liberatory education theory, so we ought to pursue a ‘trialogical’ experience in our mission based reading of Scripture. This trialogical encounter includes the place of the Bible, reader and child. Another way of stating this is that we need an integration of three voices— the Biblical passage, the Christian worker and the context. Included in this cooperative encounter is the voice of the Holy Spirit, illuminating the Word of God to us as we read. The Holy Spirit speaks into our lives as we dialogue between Scripture and the context (child at risk).

2) A second concern is I have is centered on our use of terms that refer to children at risk. Terms like “street kids” and “sexually exploited children” etc. are terms that we are forced to use to describe children that are at risk. While we are limited to our language, but we need to think carefully about the nomenclatures we have chosen for categorizing children. Take for example the use of “street children.” The anthropologist, Patricia Marquez, in her ethnography studying children in Caracas, Venezuela says, “‘Street children’ as a general category glosses over the heterogeneity of these young people’s lives, depriving them of individuality” (1995, 5). I think we have a tendency to ‘gloss over’ the individual child, even from our faith based organizations. While not everyone is in favor of the term “community children” instead of “street children” as I and others have suggested (Burch 2005), I think at the very least it creates an environment that forces us to think about the children we so easily categorize. So I guess my concern centers on the issue of terminology. I don’t think that we should just accept terms without any basis just because someone in the UN suggests them, but rather, our language, should be filtered through Scripture and the biblical concept of the Imago Dei.

3) One more issue that I feel is important to our research is the place of family. It seems that it is quite a common practice to fragment children from family. I believe we need to do more to integrate the two, by understanding the place of ‘families at risk.’ Of course, some children have been forcefully separated from their family—that is why they are at risk—yet an important area in future research might be the very place of familial wholeness. To treat the family unit (beyond the immediate family) might be a place of new discovery for hope in our work with children at risk.


Burch, Greg W. 2005. Community Children: A Ministry of Hope and Restoration for the Street Dwelling Child. Miami: LAM.

Freire, Paulo. 1993. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. NY: Continuum.

Kirk, Andrew. 2000. What is Mission? Minneapolis: Fortress

Marquez, Patricia Carol. 1994. “Youth on the Streets, Commodities, and violence in Caracas.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of California at Berkeley.

Skreslet, Stanley H. 2003. “Doctoral Dissertations on Mission: Ten-Year Update, 1992-2001.” IBMR. Vol. 27 (3) 98-103.

Van Engen, Charles. 1996. Mission on the Way. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Yoder, John Howard. 1984. The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

What do you think?

One thought on “Important Areas in Research on Children at Risk

  1. Thanks Greg. I am sending your article to my daughter and son in law in Peru. They are with the Presbyterian Church in America/ Mission to the World. They are finishing language school and will be in Lima working with “community children”. I am a new blogger, but wanted you to know that I appreciate what you are doing to train and equip nationals including those of us in the U S.

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