Ethical issues in research with children
A reading list
November 2011A list of key publications on the ethical considerations of conducting research with children and young people.
Books and reportsAccessing children as research participants: examining the role of gatekeepers.
Child: Care, Health and Development, 2010, 36(4): 452-454
Coyne, I.Considers the difficulties of children's participation in research when ethics committees and gatekeepers restrict researchers from accessing children directly and researches have to seek the views of parents/carers instead. Looks specifically at children in health care settings. Questions the notion of vulnerability and argues that children themselves should be allowed to decide their involvement in research.
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Child: Care, Health and Development, 36(4): 452-454Research governance in children's services: the scope for new advice (PDF).
Boddy, Janet and Oliver, Christine
London: Department for Education (DfE), 2011Aims to identify and evaluate existing arrangements for research governance and ethics review in children's services in England. Makes recommendations for development of these arrangements with a view to ensuring a more coherent and transparent system. Research consisted of a literature review into ethics issues in research with children and young people, and an electronic survey sent to all 152 local authority Children's Services Directorates.
Practical guidance on consulting, conducting research and working in participative ways with children and young people experiencing domestic abuse (PDF) .
Stafford, Anne and Smith, Connie
Edinburgh: Scottish Government, 2009Guidance note, produced to accompany the Scottish Government's National Domestic Abuse Delivery Plan for Children and Young People published in June 2008. Provides practical information about consulting, researching and working in participative ways with children and young people experiencing domestic abuse. Sets out some principles on safe, effective engagement, and discusses the importance of planning and the need for careful consideration of young people's safety and wellbeing. Highlights challenges in seeking children's freely given consent and the importance to this particular group of young people of privacy and confidentiality.
Researching children's experiences.
Freeman, Melissa and Mathison, Sandra
New York ; London: Guilford Press, 2009Presents approaches to planning and carrying out research projects with children and youth from a social constructivist perspective. Uses examples to illustrate how to elicit and understand the lived experiences of diverse young people. Methods of data-collection are discussed, including: drawing, photography, the Internet, games, interviewing, focus groups, journaling, and observation. Looks at: strategies for fostering the active contributions of children in the research process; navigating consent and ethical issues; enlisting the support of parent and schools etc.; and, analysing and interpreting data.
Liebenberg, Linda and Ungar, Michael
Toronto ; London: University of Toronto Press, 2009Collection of chapters describing qualitative and quantitative research methods to study the resilience in children and young people faced with adversity. Considers the ethics of researching children; participatory research; holistic case studies; cross-cultural studies; meta-analysis; and mixed methods. Also looks at the application of methods: evaluating a mathematics intervention for disadvantaged learners in South Africa; a research project into the Pathways to Resilience Project; making research a transformative experience.
Research with children: perspectives and practices. 2nd ed
Christensen, Pia, and James, Allison
New York ; London: Jessica Kingsley, 2008Explores some central questions arising in empirical research with children. Demonstrates the links between theory and practice, and illustrates questions of methodology and epistemology by drawing on research with children in different social and cultural contexts. Looks at: ethics and reflexivity in research with children; quantitative and qualitative approaches; and children as researchers. Stresses the importance of adopting both comparative and intergenerational perspectives to account for the commonality and diversity of childhood, children's empowerment and children and subjects and participants in the research process
.Doing research with children. 2nd ed.
Greig, Anne, Taylor, Jayne and MacKay, Tommy
London: Sage, 2007A practical guide to undertaking research with children. Considers the special nature of children in research and looks at theories and approaches. Explores the review and design as well as how to conduct research with children -evaluating research with children, the importance of questions, designing and doing quantitative research with children, designing and doing qualitative research with children. Also looks at consultation and participation, ethics, themes and perspectives
.Children as researchers (PDF)
Brownlie, Julie, Anderson, Simon and Ormston, Rachel
[Edinburgh]: Scottish Executive, 2006This report presents the findings from a research project sponsored by the Scottish Executive which explored the problems and possibilities of incorporating a 'children as researchers' perspective into the agenda of government social research in Scotland. This project had three elements: a mapping exercise of recent projects in the UK, a review of existing literature relating to children doing research and qualitative interviews with policy makers, researchers, research managers and young researchers. Results indicate that there needs to be a change in the mindset within government regarding the possibilities for children's participation in research
.Conducting research with children and young people (PDF)
Market Research Society (MRS)
London: Market Research Society (MRS), 2006Guidelines interpreting the Market Research Society's Code of conduct (2005) and providing additional best practice in conducting research with children and young people. The aims of the guidelines are: to protect the rights of children and young people physically, mentally, ethically and emotionally and to ensure they are not exploited; to reassure parents and others concerned with their welfare and safety that research conducted under these guidelines is designed to protect the interests of children and young people; to ensure good quality research; to promote the professionalism and value of research - among children, young people and the wider public; and, to protect the researcher and client by publishing the necessary good practice required to meet their legal and ethical responsibilities.
Ethical issues in community-based research with children and youth.
Leadbetter, B., Banister, E., Beniot, C., Jansson, M., Marshall, A. and Rieckan, T.
Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 2006Researching children's experience: approaches and methods.
Greene, Sheila and Hogan, Diane (eds.)
London: Sage, 2005
ISBN: 0761971033Looks at conceptual, methodological and ethical issues in researching children's experiences; methods for conducting research with children; and the generation and analysis of text
.Ethical research with children.
Farrell, Ann (ed.)
Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University, 2005
ISBN: 0335216501This book looks at the issues and theories involved in conducting ethical research with children. It covers methodological and procedural issues such as research design, research with very young children, researching sensitive issues, including children with disabilities and issues of power. It uses examples from a range of research and provides strategies for carrying out research with children
.Conducting social research with young people: ethical considerations.
In: Researching gender violence: feminist methodologies in action.
T. Skinner, M. Hester and E. Malos.
Devon: Willian Publishing, 2005Children are service users too: a guide to consulting children and young people. Revised ed.
Fajerman, Lina, Treseder, Phil, and Connor, Joyce
Save the Children: 2004
ISBN: 1841870862A practical guide for organisations looking at their practice in consulting with children and young people. It is particularly aimed at organisations applying for the Charter Mark. Provides check lists and question and answer sections which are useful to those new to consulting children and young people. Includes tried and tested consultation methods
.Ethics, social research and consulting with children and young people. Revised ed.
Alderson, Priscilla, and Morrow, Virginia
Ilford, Essex: Barnardo's, 2004
ISBN: 1904659071Examines the ethical questions raised when planning a research project which involves consultation with children and young people. Looks at issues such as choice of questions, methods and samples, assessing harm and benefits, children's rights and privacy, consent, reporting and dissemination of findings. Compares and contrasts social research ethics with those of medical research
ArticlesPockets of participation: revisiting child-centred participation research.
Children and Society 25 (1), 2011: 15-25Considers the conflicts apparent in adult-led research carried out by young researchers. Explores the participation and child-centred research in a cross-cultural context giving examples of research carried out with young refugees. Discusses how research with young people on the margins of society highlights the issues of power, knowledge, ethical relations, funding processes and research methodologies and practices. Presents a methodology of creating pockets of participation that can be owned by the young researchers.
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Children and Society 25(1): 15-25
Producing and using video data in the early years: ethical questions and practical consequences in research with young children.
Children and Society 25 (3), 2011: 179-189Considers ethical questions and practical challenges in producing video data with young children as a means of recording and listening to their views. Explores some of the advantages of using this media, including the ability to recall context and record facial expressions and body language. Outlines issues that need to be tackled such as anonymity, confidentiality and informed consent.
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Children and Society 25(3): 179-189
.The child's voice in service evaluation: ethical and methodological issues.
Hutchfield, Jemeela and Coren, Esther
Child Abuse Review 20 (3), 2011: 173-186Looks at ethical issues arising from research into children's views on the therapeutic services the charity Action for Children offers to help them recover from trauma following sexual abuse. Identifies a range of concerns, including: maintaining the therapeutic relationship; ensuring anonymity and confidentiality; protecting the children from potential safeguarding issues; and ensuring the children were able to give informed, independent consent and maintain their right to withdraw from the study.
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Child Abuse Review 20 (3): 173-186
Children's experiences of completing a computer-based violence survey: ethical implications.
Ellonen, Noora and Poso, Tarja
Children and Society 25 (6), 2011: 470-481Explores the ethics of undertaking research with children when studying sensitive issues such as violence. Based on accounts given by children who completed a computer-based questionnaire about their experiences of violence and their reflections on the survey. Argues that experiences of violence should not be excluded from the research agenda on children due to ethical reasons but that a more sophisticated practice should be developed instead to meet the needs and rights of children as informants.
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Children and Society 25(6): 470-481
.Involving children in the design and development of research instruments and data collection procedures: a case study in primary schools in Northern Ireland.
Turtle, Kellie, McElearney, Aisling and Scott, Joanne
Child Care in Practice 16 (1), 2010: 57-82A case study documenting and describing the process by which children from a special and mainstream primary school participated, via their school councils, in the design and development of research instruments and data collection procedures for a research study concerned with exploring the development of a preventative child abuse education programme for primary school pupils in Northern Ireland. This process of involving children is described and the outcomes for the research process and the children themselves are explored.
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Child Care in Practice 16(1): 57-82
.Methodological standards for randomised controlled trials of interventions for preventing recurrence of child physical abuse and neglect.
Tanaka, Masako, Jamieson, Ellen, Wathen, Nadine and MacMillan, Harriet L.
Child Abuse Review 19 (1) 2010: 21-38Review of research into the success or failure that child protection services have at preventing recurrence of child physical abuse and neglect. The article reviews available studies evaluating the effectiveness of these interventions and identifies methodological limitations and factors that may contribute to these limitations. Concludes that it is possible to implement high-quality trials that are ethical and feasible in the child welfare field.
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Child Abuse Review 19(1): 21-38
Research with children and young people: the issue of parental (proxy) consent.
Children and Society 24 (3), 2010, 227-237Examines potential problems with the parental consent requirement, using case study examples. Illustrates how this requirement may result in some instances of children's rights and ethical considerations being ignored or receiving cursory attention. Argues that the 'blanket' requirement of parental consent for all research involving children under the age of 18 years needs to be challenged as it fails to recognise children's capacities and accord children due respect as persons in their own right.
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Children and Society 24(3): 227-237
.Children's participation in health research: from objects to agents?
Clavering, E. K. and McLaughlin, J.
Child: Care, Health and Development 36 (5), 2010 603-611Literature review to identify the ways in which children have been included in health-related studies and the strengths and weaknesses of participation. Summarises three approaches: research on children; research with children; research by children. Finds all approaches allowed inclusion of children's perspectives and all involved some form of adult-mediation.
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Child: Care, Health and Development 36(5): 603-611
.Vulnerable adolescent participants' experience in surveys on sexuality and sexual abuse: ethical aspects.
Priebe, Gisela, Backstrom, Martin and Ainsaar, Mare
Child Abuse and Neglect 34 (6), 2010: 438-447Analyses adolescents experiences of taking part in a survey on sexuality and sexual abuse, in order to identify if vulnerable adolescents, for example those who have suffered sexual abuse or those who are sexually inexperienced, experience higher levels of discomfort. Links findings to issues around ethical research in this area.
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Child Abuse and Neglect 34(6): 438-447
.The legal and ethical context for knowing and using the latest child welfare research.
Barsky, Allan E.
Child Welfare 88 (2) 2009: 69-92Many child welfare researchers, policymakers, and practitioners are embracing evidence-based practice as a means of promoting effective services. This article presents an overview of evidence-based practice and best practice research and explores the implications of this movement, including the potential for malpractice liability, limiting the discretion of child welfare professionals, complications with informed consent, and other legal and ethical risks.
The ethics of involving children who have been abused in child abuse research.
Mudaly, Neerosh and Goddard, Chris
International Journal of Children's Rights 17 (2), 2009: 261-281Asks whether it is ethical for children to experience pain or sadness when talking about their experiences of abuse for purposes of research and whether they can be re-traumatised by this experience. Considers concerns in respect to confidentiality where there is current abuse and looks at how to balance the rights of children to be protected from any possible exploitation, trauma and harm with their right to be consulted and heard about matters that affect them.
Ethics in child research: children's agency and researchers' 'ethical radar' (PDF).
Childhoods Today 3 (1), 2009: 1-22Reflects on ethical dilemmas encountered during a study with 2-5-year-old children in preschool and specifically problems in the consent process. Concludes that 'ethical radars' are necessary throughout the research process, as children seem to have other ways of expressing acceptance and rejection/withdrawal than just verbally.
Research governance, ethics and access: a case study illustrating the new challenges facing social researchers
Munro, Emily R.
International Journal of Social Research Methodology 11(5), December 2008: 429-439Discusses the implications of the 'Research Governance Framework for Health and Social Care' implemented in England and providing a set of standards to be used nationally in the conduct of health and social care research. Examines issues with reference to a study involving vulnerable children and families. Explores the potential implications for other studies and makes recommendations about these issues might be overcome
.Ethical challenges in conducting research with hard to reach families
Gorin, Sarah, and Hooper, Carol-Ann, and Dyson, Claire, and Cabral, Christie
Child Abuse Review 17(4), Jul/Aug 2008: 275-287The authors discuss their approach to ethics, some of the ethical challenges they encountered undertaking work with parents and children who are traditionally hard to reach, and discuss the complexity of decision-making around risk of harm to children. Concludes that a clear framework to avoid harm should be developed at the outset and a transparent approach to child protection issues should be used
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Child Abuse Review 17(4): 275-287
.Research with young children: contemplating methods and ethics (PDF)
Birkbeck, David J. and Drummond, Murray J. N.
Journal of Educational Enquiry 7(2), 2007: 21-31.Seeks to examine and challenge the rationale for the omission of children's voices in studies that relate directly to children. Examines the empirical evidence surrounding children's abilities and presents an argument that seeks to question the assumptions embedded in methodologies designed for use with adults which, when applied to research with children, may lead to ethical dilemmas
.The ethical maze: finding an inclusive path towards gaining children's agreement to research participation
Childhood 13(2), 2006: 247-266.Discusses the problems of informed consent that were encountered in research with children with learning impairments. Proposes that the process of seeking 'assent', when used with an ethical framework, is a more comprehensive method of gaining the agreement of children in research, which transcends language, ability, cultural, social and international borders.
'If we help you what will change?': participatory research with young people.
Petrie, Stephanie, Fiorelli, Lisa, and O'Donnell, Katie
Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 28(1), March 2006: 31-45.Explores the ways in which young people were included as research participants in a major study on teenage pregnancy and young parenthood. Discusses whether or not it is possible to involve young people in research in ways that are more than 'tokenistic'. It also considers whether or not the research process, the researchers and research participants benefit from such involvement
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 28(1): 31-45
.Involving young service users as co-researchers: possibilities, benefits and costs.
British Journal of Social Work 36(8), December 2006: 1395-1410.This article looks at the benefits and costs of involving young service users in research. It considers the benefits and costs in relation to research and development, research dissemination, service development and service users. It concludes that participation in research is beneficial for the young service user co-researchers and the adult researchers, but that there is insufficient evidence as to its impact on practice and service delivery
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: British Journal of Social Work 36(8): 1395-1410
.Conducting research with children: the limits of confidentiality and child protection protocols.
Williamson, Emma, Goodenough, Trudy, Kent, Julie, and Ashcroft, Richard
Children and Society 19(5), November 2005: 397-409.This article looks at the issues of confidentiality relating to child protection in conducting research with children
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Children and Society 19(5): 397-409
.Working with students as researchers: ethical issues of a participatory process (PDF)
Olitsky, Stacy, and Weathers, John
Forum: Qualitative Social Research 6(1), January 2005: 1-20.Describes a research study into urban science education involving young African-Americans. Finds the academic discourse surrounding the research process is seen by the young researchers as a barrier to participation through reaffirming social boundaries. Argues for a reflexive research process and making explicit issues of power, knowledge and exclusivity to ensure research methods do not undermine political and ethical research goals.
Research with children: a critical review of the guidelines.
Neill, Sarah J.
Journal of Child Health Care 9(1), 2005: 46-58.This article considers the ethical issues involved in conducting research with children. The key principles found were that it is unethical not to conduct research with children, consent should be obtained, if information concerning risk to the child emerges confidentiality cannot be guaranteed and the impact of the research on the child must be considered
.Using computer-assisted self-interviewing (CASI) questionnaires to facilitate consultation and participation with vulnerable young people.
Davies, Murray, and Morgan, Alun
Child Abuse Review 14(6), Nov-Dec 2005: 389-406.This article looks at the use of computer assisted self interviewing with vulnerable children. Includes a literature review and case study
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Child Abuse Review 14(6): 389-406
.'How come I don't get asked no questions?' Researching 'hard to reach' children and teenagers.
Curtis, Katherine, Roberts, Helen, Copperman, Jeanette, Downie, Anna, and Liabo, Kristin
Child and Family Social Work 9(2), May 2004: 167-175.Discusses two related areas of research practice with children and young people. Firstly, working with children and teenagers for whom the traditional, discursive nature of interview-based research is less accessible. Secondly, the disinclination of researchers to report on difficulties in the research process. Includes findings of a review of the literature
Freely view abstract or access full text by subscription: Child and Family Social Work 9(2): 167-175
Web resourcesCode of ethics and conduct (PDF)
British Psychological Society (BPS), 2009.Conducting research on the internet: guidelines for ethical practice in psychological research online (PDF)
British Psychological Society (BPS), 2007.GSR professional guidance: ethical assurance for social research in Government (PDF)
Government Social Research Service, 2008.GSR ethics checklist (PDF)
Government Social Research Service, 2008.National Research Ethics Service (NRES)
.Provided by the National Safety Patient Agency of the National Health Service (NHS). Presents guidance on the requirements for ethical review, how to apply for ethical approval and what the requirements are after review. Includes information for patients and members of the public on the National Research Ethics Service and ethical review and information for Chairs, members and Co-ordinators of NHS Research Ethics Committees
.ESRC framework for research ethics (FRE) 2010.
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), 2012The RESPECT projectFunded by the European Commission’s Information Society Technologies (IST) Programme, to draw up professional and ethical guidelines for the conduct of socio-economic research. Provides the ethical code, a user guide and related publications
.Revised ethical guidelines for educational research (PDF)
British Educational Research Association (BERA), 2004.Social Research Association: ethical guidelines (PDF).
Social Research Association, 2003.UK Evaluation Society good practice guidelines
UK Evaluation Society, .
Search the NSPCC Library Online to find more resources on research methods
Contact the NSPCC Information Service for specialist information on research with children or any child protection topic