Researching children: are we getting it right? A discussion of ethics

Agnes Nairn

EM-Lyon Business School

Barbie Clarke

Family Kids and Youth

There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected [and] that their welfare is protected …

(Kofi Annan)

The changing role of children in research

The era when children were seen and not heard has gone. Children now have rights. In 1989 the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) unequivocally and universally established children’s rights to participation (Article 12). Concordant with this philosophy the past decade has seen a substantial body of literature from psychology and sociology to geography and anthropology arguing for greater involvement of young people in decisions that affect them (e.g. Morrow 1999; Alderson 2000; Shier 2001; Stafford et al. 2003; Hill et al. 2004; Powell & Smith 2009). Underpinning this thinking is a dominant ‘new social studies of childhood’ discourse (Prout 2005), which positions children as beings in their own right rather than simply mini-adults in the making. This shift in global theory and thought has now begun to manifest itself in the practical implementation of government policy on the ground. In the UK, for example, the Children’s Act 2004 specifically requires the Children’s Commissioner to consult with children (Section 2:4) and the principle of child participation is an integral seam within education, health and social care policy. Between 2006 and 2010,1 most schools in the UK participated in the annual ‘TellUs’ survey in which children aged 8 to 18 were asked their opinion about their teachers, their teaching, their school, the services they receive, and their lives (see Figure 1).