How many children are taking part in Elfe and how were they selected?
In 2011, 18,324 children and their families agreed to become part of the great Elfe adventure. To be eligible, children had to be born in one of the 344 maternity units drawn by lot in metropolitan France in 2011, during one of four predefined periods (25 days in total). It was therefore their date of birth and the maternity unit that determined their participation in the study.
Why study a nationwide sample of children from birth to adulthood?
This is the most effective method for tracking the children’s life experiences, trajectories and the events that affect their future. It will shed light on the full complexity of children’s circumstances and the causal relationships between all the different factors. It is particularly relevant today, given just how much children’s environments have changed over the past few decades (increasingly complex family backgrounds, more years spent in education, new eating habits, less physical exercise, increased air pollution and exposure to new chemical pollutants).
What role do fathers play in the Elfe study?
In foreign cohorts, there has been very little interest in fathers’ assessments of their children’s development. Most of them have chosen to collect data on the childen by interviewing their mothers. However, the place and role of fathers within the family circle have changed considerably in recent decades, meaning that fathers now represent an affective and active presence in their children’s lives. For this reason, fathers are contacted almost as often as mothers in the Elfe study, and we also take account of specific circumstances such as parental separation.
How is the study funded?
The study has several sources of public funding, including subsidies from a consortium of ministries and institutions, and funding obtained by responding to calls for projects by the French National Research Agency (ANR), mainly under its “Investments for the Future” programme. The funds that have already been received cover the first few years of the survey, and will have to be renewed in the medium term.
What is the point of carrying out a study of this kind in France when several other countries have already done so?
The United Kingdom and Scandinavian countries long ago realized the usefulness of studying large national cohorts and are now leaders in this field. They demonstrated the economic benefits of investing in the care and protection of young children. However, differences in lifestyle, health and family policy, cultural context and the environment mean that their results cannot be directly transposed to the French context. This is why it was important for France to launch its own large child cohort, in order to inform decisions affecting health and social policy and identify ways of improving primary prevention.
Do parents have to take part in the Elfe survey?
No. At the outset, parents were entirely free to agree or refuse to take part in the survey. Both parents were systematically asked to give their consent, and children could not join the study if one parent was opposed to their participation. Parents can withdraw their child from the study at any time without having to justify their decision, and this is clearly explained to them at every stage.
Will all the information collected remain strictly confidential?
The Elfe project leaders have taken particular care to guarantee information security and confidentiality. Secure procedures have been designed to prevent persons involved in the study from simultaneously accessing the data that has been collected and information that could lead to the identification of individual participants at any stage in the project. They are also designed to prevent the creation of a single large database for the different phases of the survey. These procedures have been validated by CNIL.
Do parents receive individualized feedback about the results?
There is no mechanism for giving parents feedback about their children, quite simply because they are the very ones who answer the questionnaires. We do, however, make an exception for some of the biological sampling, if a result is particularly abnormal and the child could benefit from proper medical care.