Undertaking research with children is a mean feat. For one, there are countless regulations that monitor the interaction between the child and the researcher. Doing research with children can give a better insight into any potential issues and problems that children and young people face.
The importance when doing research is to consider the child’s safety and well- being during the process. In order to provide the right support to children, researchers need to ensure that children feel respected and secure.Moreover, ethical considerations, as well as legal implications have to be addressed first. Consequently, the paper highlights the ethical and methodological challenges that researchers face when undertaking research using this populous.
Researchers face ethical and methodological problems, such as confidentiality and privacy. Ethical IssuesResearch Ethics and Children’s RightsResearchers have discovered that there is a link between the rights of the child and the ethical guidelines that govern the research. To point out, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) offers four guidelines that have to be considered as one is undertaking research with this group. In the first place, the welfare of the child should be considered (Powell et al.,2012). In this case, the research conducted should aim at improving the welfare of the child either directly or indirectly. Secondly, protection should be offered to the child.
In this regards, the researcher should ensure that they avoid conditions of distress to the child and in case one arises, contingency plans should be readily available. The third is right and provision, to make children feel good about contributing to the research as a way of serving the society. Lastly, in choice and participation, children should make informed choices pertaining participation, consent, contributing ideas to the research agenda, and determining the confidentiality boundaries. In view of the ethical and legislative requirements, the following are ethical challenges:Consensual ChallengesInformed ConsentThe issue of informed consent remains to be one of the most contested issues in research regarding children. Of note is, consent is based on four core concepts which are: consent involves an explicit act, consent can be given only if the participants are aware of and have an understanding of what the research entails, consent must be given voluntarily without any coercion, and consent must be renegotiable in that the child can pull out of an ongoing research project (Powell et al., 2012).
Consent as an explicit actIn many cases, it is usually unclear as to who should give consent; the parent or the child. Further, it becomes more complicated when the research is conducted in the family home of the respondent. For this reason, a lot of focus is put on the consenting ability of the child (Powell et al., 2012). For example, a severely mentally disabled child is considered incapable of making such a decision. Conversely, a child with moderate learning disability should be engaged in the consent process without coercion.
Unfortunately, for researchers, they have to contend with the final consent been given by the parents.Consent and awareness of the participantChildren should be aware of the purpose of the research before giving any consent. With this in mind, the information should be written in a manner that would attract younger people into participating.
However, at times, full disclosure may hinder the progress from happening (Fargas-Malet, McSherry, Larkin, & Robinson, 2010). For example, if a researcher used the terms ‘child abuse’ or ‘child maltreatment’ in their information, the respondents may refuse to participate in the research. At the same time, not revealing the true nature of the research constitutes breaching the principle of full disclosure.
Consent must be voluntaryConsent in many cases is not voluntary, according to research. To elaborate, in many cases, children rely on the permission given by parents so that they take part in the research (Fargas-Malet et al., 2010). At other times, a child may want to withdraw from the researcher, but is unsure how to handle the situation. Additionally, the child may be afraid of telling the researcher that they are afraid of opening up. When undertaking research with children and young people it is extremely important to listen for the emergence and maintenance of building relationships between the child and the researcher himself.
Children that experience little adult attention show implications on their social, emotional, cognitive and language development. Instead of receiving affection, understanding, and empathy, the child perceive itself as a disruptive factor of feeling ignored, unloved and worthless. As Lundy states, researchers, educationists and policymakers need to be proactive rather than passive in helping children to express their views and to encourage children to have a voice that they can easily understand without fear of reprisal (Lundy cited in Kellett, 2014, p. 27). The following phrase, “giving children a voice”, predicates that voice is a gift, achievable only through the generosity of adults (Bucknall, 2014, p. 72)The importance lies in researchers and practitioners.
They need to be capable of reassuring children and young people to care about them, be consistent, trustworthy and be a caring role model. Therefore, children and young people need practitioners and researchers to have a sense of understanding. Children and young people are able to provide competent information about their own life situation. They should be heard and included in a way which is meaningful for them, not only by parents, researchers or educators also their wider society. Listening, therefore, is an important method by which researchers can understand a child in all its individuality. Listening to a child, showing interest and respecting certain needs and preferences is the base to fully engage with children and young people. Children voices matter when addressing their issues.
Choice in participationResearchers prefer creating consent in the children at different stages of the research process in case the child wants to withdraw from the research (Powell et al., 2012). Regardless, some children still feel the need to continue with the research because of incentives promised or fear.Protection from HarmThe ethical principles of nonmaleficence and benevolence stress the value of protecting the participants of the research while ensuring that the research goals are met. As such, many researchers do not conduct research on children because of the notion that they are vulnerable and so, require a lot of protection from harm (Powell et al., 2012).
The United Convention on the Rights of Children (United Nations 1989) set out human rights in which they set the goal of giving children and young people a voice. Having a voice means, indicated in Article 12 and 13 of the Rights of the Child, that children are involved in all decisions that affect their lives and to voice their opinion on the activities and decisions which shape their lives (Clark et al., 2014, p. 70) Additionally, with a lot of regulations in place, children and young people, the vulnerability of children have only been increased. Equally, conducting a risk-based assessment is not straightforward as one may think because of the different perceptions of what harm constitutes.
In the same vein, the benefits of the research are not easy to identify because some are noticed years after the research has happened (Powell et al., 2012). In social research, a lot of caution exists especially because in most cases, the topics researched on having a negative effect on the child. For instance, conducting a research on the effects of sexual abuse in children may expose the participating children to anxiety and discomfort owing to the fact that would have to disclose their traumatic experiences.
For researchers, it may be a difficult situation to handle because they are not allowed to put the child through pain or recounting their suffering and at the same time, the information is vital in understanding the research topic. While the regulations are made to protect the children, some researchers argue that they hinder the participation of children.GatekeepersGatekeepers are individuals who the researchers have to get clearance from if they want to research on children. For one, the gatekeepers assist the researcher to recruit the children that they want to participate in the research. However, they may become a hindrance to the research by influencing the information that should be collected and how it should be done. Equally, where sensitive topics are being discussed, the protection of the child is increased because of the level of vulnerability increases (Block, Warr, Gibbs, & Riggs, 2012). In the end, the protectionist policies, although good, gate-keep children from airing their views even though they want to take part. It was observed that parents and other gatekeepers were reluctant to give consent for their children to participate because they fear that the child would be labeled, traumatized, and pressed for more information about their lifestyle.
Privacy-Anonymity and ConfidentialityAnonymity and confidentiality are critical when undertaking research with children and young people. To point out, confidentiality protects the participants from victimization and stigmatization (Block et al., 2012). With this knowledge, pseudonyms and removing information that is identifiable are good measures that protect the child from being easily identified. The dilemma comes in when the child wants their actual names to be used in a report.
Given that a true identity could pose a serious danger to the child, a researcher is faced with the problem of protecting the child or allowing the child, who has consented to their names being used, to go ahead and use their name (Powell et al., 2012). Important to realize, children are consulted when choosing their pseudonyms in order to make them feel comfortable. Similarly, the location of the interview is critical to ensuring confidentiality. At home, privacy may be limited and curious parents may want to be present throughout the interview.
On the other hand, in school settings, the same challenges may be faced with regards to privacy.MethodologicalLocation can be a challenge when conducting research with young people. The Location has an impact on the response of the children in the process. Notably, the main locations that are used for research are schools and homes. Using the school setting is cost-effective to the researcher (Fragas-Mallet et al., 2010). Nonetheless, children may be coerced to participate in the research.
To elaborate, once the researcher has given the consent, it is difficult for the learners to refuse to participate. Regardless, the majority always responds to the questions as expected. Even so, the minority, barely do anything constructive. Other challenges associated with school include rigid timetables. In this case, the researcher is forced to schedule their undertakings to be in line with the school’s schedule. Additionally, getting spare rooms at school is a demanding task depending on the time available. Worse still, given the school setting, children may perceive the researcher as an authoritative figure and the research as homework which they must answer appropriately.
As a result, the child may tell the researcher what they want to hear as opposed to what is right.At home, the challenges are even worse. To begin with, the parents of the child may want to be present during the entire interview process. Consequently, the responses of the child end up being influenced by their parents (Powell et al., 2012). Likewise, the presence of the guardians could instill fear in the children, thus resulting in inaccurate responses.
More so, it is very expensive in terms of transportation, boarding fees, and other associated charges. Also, a lot of time is consumed in interviewing the participants (Fragas-Mallet et al., 2010). Likewise, the researcher has to prove their social position before they can interview the child.
According to the child protection law, the interviewer is barred from privately conversing with the child in a secluded place, such as a room. With all these factors, location obviously seems like a contentious issue.Data CollectionIn data collection, the questions and activities could be problematic as well. As a researcher, it is appropriate, to begin with, questions that the child can relate to and gradually increase the intensity of the questions. Throughout the process, the researcher should be keen on the facial expressions and the general behavior of the child (Fragas-Mallet et al., 2010). The choice of questions is not easy, although researchers are advised to use open-ended questions.
The range of activities should be related to the topic of discussion so that they are able to feel relaxed. By all means, there should be no indication of coercion even in these activities.ConclusionIn conclusion, researchers face ethical and methodological problems, such as confidentiality and privacy. To highlight, consensual challenges like informed consent, voluntary participation, awareness of the respondents, and choice in participation make it difficult for the researcher to involve the child without facing hurdles imposed by the guardians of the child or the law. Moreover, the protection from harm practices proves to be a hindrance in conducting research with children because of the gatekeepers. Methodologically, finding a suitable location both at home and at school is a back-breaking task. Lastly, data collection techniques have to be appropriate for the task.