Overcoming professional gatekeeping
In order to reach more young people and for research to be as representative and inclusive as possible, we need to overcome professional gatekeeping.
These strategies could help to meet the challenge.
Engage young people in participation groups and research advisory groups
These groups allow us to hear children and young people’s views about the benefits and disadvantages of support services and to listen to their opinions about the way forward.
Engage with professionals
By engaging with practitioners, researchers can help young people explain why it matters to them to be heard.
We can explain to professionals that young people who say yes to research generally report having a positive experience; they find it empowering.
We can also explore the reasons for their reluctance and find ways around it, feeding these findings into ethical boards.
It’s essential for ethics boards to be trained and experienced in balancing a child’s right to protection with their rights of participation - and for those rights to be communicated to professionals working with vulnerable young people.
It’s important that taking part in research does not have a negative impact on a child’s wellbeing and that we take steps to identify and respond to any safeguarding issues, but this balance can be found.
Finding routes directly to young people
In our study investigating the impact of technology-assisted sexual abuse on young people we collaborated with Childline.
In one part of the study young people over 17 were recruited via Childline adverts (including on Facebook) and invited to make their own choice about participating in the research.
Because we recruited these young people directly from the Childline community we had a wider – and more representative - base of participants to work with. Many of the young people who responded to our adverts were experiencing significant challenges, which may have meant that professionals would have been reluctant to identify them for research.
The participants made informed choices. For example, different young people chose different elements of research to engage with; some chose to only provide a few details about their experiences, some completed anonymous questionnaires, others were happy to meet and be interviewed.
This study is a good example of how direct routes to young people can help to overcome professional gatekeeping. But researchers still have a responsibility to safeguard the children they work with. We excluded children under 17 from our research for ethical reasons.
But over a third of young people who initially responded to our adverts were 16 and under – this demonstrates that they wish to be speak out and further emphasises that we need to consider how to ensure their voices are heard.