Researching Children: Are we getting it right? A discussion of ethics

Barbie Clarke,
Family Kids and Youth

Agnes Nairn
EM-Lyon Business School


As the role of children in society becomes more prominent, their participation in research seems set to increase. In this paper we review whether we are getting the ethics of children's research right. We show that children are universally treated as a special case and that they have been accorded their own special set of human rights (UNCRC) which primarily grants them rights to protection and participation. We go on to argue (with practical examples) that the core research principles of wellbeing, voluntary informed consent and privacy/ confidentiality must be applied to children with particular caution and care. In particular we contend that the widespread use of online research techniques presents new challenges for keeping children safe and maintaining their trust. We end by presenting the results of a survey which sought children's views on being research participants in a quite sensitive piece of research. We found that children are highly appreciative of being consulted about their lives in general and being asked about their feelings. However we also found that some children can be uncomfortable with some of the questions asked, and can feel compelled to answer the questions. We conclude that whilst we have good industry codes, ethics evolves with shifting social, political and cultural patterns and that we need to keep challenging ourselves to maintain best practice.