Why Are Ethics so Important in Research with or About Children and Young People?

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Why are ethics so important in research with or about children and young people? “Although the origins of the children’s rights movement can be traced back to the nineteenth century, it is only in the last 20 years that there has been a growing recognition of the importance of listening to children’s views and wishes.” Charles Magna Fombad (2005)

International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family v19, page 102

In this assignment I am going to consider the importance of ethical considerations in research with or about children and young people. I shall be doing this by looking at the access to the children via the gatekeepers, child competence and consent of the child themselves. I shall be using the paper of Tracey Skelton to examine how to overcome ethical barriers if there are any when carrying out a research project and as ethical issues are relevant to all parts of the research process, from the planning of the project all the way through to the dissemination I will view how these should be carried out with the appropriate consideration of the rights and viewpoints of the children and young adults.

What is meant by the term ‘child’? Within United Nations Convection on the rights of the Child (UNCRC) (1990) and UK law, it means anyone under the age of 18. The Collins Dictionary (1995) declares a boy or girl between birth and puberty. Alderson and Morrow (cited in Skelton, 2008) recognise that this is a person under the age of 16. There is somewhat a grey area on when a child becomes an adult: at age 14 a child is allowed into a pub, although not to have an alcoholic beverage; at age 16 their medical records become private and they are legally allowed to have sex; aged 17 and they are allowed to drive a car; and when a young person turns 18 they are granted the full rights and responsibilities of the adult world. It seems that the question of when a child becomes an adult is open to interpretation, should one look to each child as an individual, or group all under the umbrella of ‘children’. This is why many countries have changed their laws with response to the UNCRC.

The involvement of children and young people in research is a quite recent happening as is the important input that this group can make to research topics has been recognised. Research was in the past more likely to be carried out about children, especially by those involved in educational or health research. In order for the research to take place access was often sought from parents and guardians, social workers and other professionals such as schools otherwise known as gatekeepers. To research with children and young people in institutional settings such as schools, can raise particular ethical issues in relation to individuals consent, for example, if research participation is conducted as a whole-group, for example classroom environments. But the problem with this in the past is that researchers infrequently tried to explain to children the rationale of their studies. In contrast to this researchers in the field of social policy, law and sociology tended to overlook the children on the basis that they were measured incompetent, unreliable and that they needed to be protected, in turn causing too many problems to include them as participants in research. Both these approaches compromise research legally, ethically and in terms of research findings. (Masson Fraser et al 2004) This means that research in these areas, that doesn’t involve children, is permitted within the law. But is it sufficient to seek permission from parents or other gatekeepers to involve children in research; or is it more ethical to seek consent from the children themselves in addition to their parents. The general rule here is to ask parents’ consent to approach children and then ask for the children’s consent. Ethical research involves informing and respecting everyone’s wishes that are concerned. However, in the case of the stranger situation, some people may find...
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