Involving children in social research: balancing the risks and benefits

August 2015

NDARC staff: Dr Jenny Chalmers

Other investigators: 

Associate Professor Stephanie Taplin (Australian Catholic University), Professor Morag McCarthur (Australian Catholic University), Professor Anne Graham (Southern Cross University), Dr Merle Spriggs (University of Melbourne), Dr Tim Moore (Australian Catholic University)

Project description: 

There is a growing consensus that children’s involvement in social research is important, but considerable uncertainty remains around children’s inclusion in research on ‘sensitive’ issues, reflecting concerns about how to balance children’s protection with their participation. 

Key to this are deeply embedded assumptions and beliefs about, children and childhood, especially concerning notions of capacity, agency, vulnerability, and dependency. 

This study aims to better understand and address the tensions between the protection of children and their participation in research and to explore how HRECs, parents, others gatekeepers and children themselves manage and navigate these tensions. 

The study aims to: 

  1. Describe the processes through which children’s participation in research is determined, asking: what are the ontological (the way children are constructed), epistemological (what children know), methodological, ethical, professional, ideological and practical factors that influence the decisions of HRECs, gatekeepers, parents and children.
  2. Identify the key barriers and enablers to children’s participation in research about sensitive issues.
  3. Identify, through the use of scenarios, the factors that influence decision-making including: how gatekeepers assess risk level and the appropriateness of particular research topics and methodologies.
  4. Use the information collected to provide more nuanced and urgently-needed guidance to HRECs and other gatekeepers on how to best identify the risks and benefits of children’s participation in research, and guidance to researchers on how to help ensure children's rights and wellbeing are attended to throughout the entire research process.