Research with Children and Youth

Categories: Creative Methods, Data Collection, Other, Research, Research Ethics, Research Skills

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In the first quarter of 2021 we explored design steps, starting with a January focus on Finding the Question. We learned more about the design stage in February by focusing on Choosing Methodology and MethodsThe March focus was on Designing an Ethical Study. In the second quarter our focus will move from the design stage to the data collection stage. Our focus for April is on Collecting Data from & with Participants.


Children and Youth as Vulnerable Participants

The introduction to Researching with Children and Young People: Research Design, Methods and Analysis (Tisdall, Davis & Gallagher, 2009) lays out some of the questions and issues involved with studies about (and with) children and youth.

  • What are children?
  • How can we, as adults, find out about them, their lives and their experiences?
  • How can we engage with children in ways that are respectful, mutually beneficial and liberating, rather than exploitative or dominating?
  • How can we involve the children themselves in these processes? And what options are available to us for sharing what we find out?

These questions have been explored over the past two decades through a growing literature to which this book aims to contribute. Children have been a focus of the psycho-social sciences tracing back to the start of the twentieth century (Hendrick, 2003), but they were most often the objects of research. Now, there is intense interest in children as the subjects of research, perceiving them as having something salient to contribute to the questions at hand. Even further, there is a growing commitment to engaging children as collaborators or supporting their own initiatives.

The interdisciplinary field of childhood studies, drawing on a variety of social sciences, has promoted a rethinking of children’s traditionally dependent, objectified status within research methods. Arguments are now well established that researchers should recognize children’s agency, their citizenship as human beings now and not just in the future, and involve children as (the central) research participants. More fundamentally, childhood studies has challenged taken-for-granted ideas of childhood. Historical and cross-cultural comparisons demonstrate that concepts of childhood are not universal nor inevitable (Ariès, 1973; Pollock, 1983; Hendrick, 2003).

Childhood studies has thus encouraged us to look critically at our own and others’ conceptualizations of childhood, and recognize their impact on structures, services and relationships. This equally applies to those involved in research with children. All of us will come to such activities with our own particular backgrounds, and associated assumptions about childhood and youth. This will influence how we carry out our research, in terms of the questions posed, the characteristics of the participants, the methods used, the ethical frameworks and the outcomes.

Tisdall, E., Davis, J. & Gallagher, M. (2009). Introduction. In Researching with children and young people: Research design, methods and analysis (pp. 1-10). SAGE Publications Ltd, https://www.doi.org/10.4135/9781446268315


How should you proceed? Learn from these articles.

This collection of open-access articles provides some guidance and examples for researchers who want to study participants under the age of 18.

Ethics and Research with Children and Youth

Furey, R., Kay, J., Barley, R., Cripps, C., Shipton, L., & Steill, B. (2010). Developing Ethical Guidelines for Safeguarding Children during Social Research. Research Ethics, 6(4), 120–127. https://doi.org/10.1177/174701611000600403

Abstract. A working party of academics from both professional safeguarding backgrounds and research backgrounds developed and wrote ethical guidelines on safeguarding children in research on behalf of their faculty research ethics committee. The working party encountered a lack of useful precedents while developing the guidelines leading to a lengthy process of debate and consideration of the issues. This paper explores the various issues and dilemmas arising during this process, particularly the tension between safeguarding children from abuse and maintaining research confidentiality. One of the main areas of discussion was how to establish the limits of confidentiality without compromising the research in hand.

The role and responsibilities of researchers in supporting children’s welfare, and the development of procedures for ensuring that safeguarding is effective are discussed as key elements. In addition, the issues researchers may face when determining thresholds for intervention are considered alongside the uncertainties created by considerations of the extent to which children can give informed consent in research contexts.

The paper reflects the process of considering these issues and the conclusions the working party drew as to how best to support children’s welfare during research. It also outlines the key elements of the guidelines and the structures developed to ensure researchers could get advice if suspected child abuse became an issue in their research.

The paper includes a short version of the guidelines which were eventually approved across the Higher Education Institute.

Garcia-Quiroga, M., & Agoglia, I. S. (2020). Too Vulnerable to Participate? Challenges for Meaningful Participation in Research With Children in Alternative Care and Adoption. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406920958965

Abstract. In recent years, a significant amount of research has been conducted with children from a rights perspective, especially concerning the right to be heard and participate. However, children living in alternative care and adoption have often been excluded from participating in research because they are viewed as vulnerable children who lack agency and also due to an adult-centric perspective of protection. In this article, we challenge this idea under the view that participation is a main component of protection, children are experts in their own experiences, and their views should be considered through participative research design and methods. Particular challenges that protection contexts impose for research are analyzed and several ways in which these challenges can be faced are outlined. We provide principles and examples that can be implemented to ensure that children who live in alternative care or adoption have the right as any child to be informed, be listened to, and have their views considered regarding topics that affect them.

Spriggs, M., & Gillam, L. (2019). Ethical complexities in child co-research. Research Ethics, 15(1), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1177/1747016117750207

Abstract. Child co-research has become popular in social research involving children. This is attributed to the emphasis on children’s rights and is seen as a way to promote children’s agency and voice. It is a way of putting into practice the philosophy, common amongst childhood researchers, that children are experts on childhood. In this article, we discuss ethical complexities of involving children as co-researchers, beginning with an analysis of the literature, then drawing on data from interviews with researchers who conduct child co-research. We identify six ethical complexities, some of which are new findings which have not been mentioned before in this context. In light of these possible ethical complexities, a key finding is for researchers to be reflexive – to reflect on how the research may affect child co-researchers and participants before the research starts. A separate overriding message that came out in responses from the researchers we interviewed was the need for support and training for child co-researchers. We conclude by providing a list of questions for reflexive researchers to ask of themselves when they use child co-research methodology. We also provide important questions for human research ethics committees to ask when they review projects using child co-research.

Creative and Arts-Based Methods for Research with Children or Youth

Brady, G., & Brown, G. (2013). Rewarding but Let’s Talk about the Challenges: Using Arts Based Methods in Research with Young Mothers. Methodological Innovations Online, 8(1), 99–112. https://doi.org/10.4256/mio.2013.007

Abstract. In this paper we highlight the way in which research around teenage pregnancy has been commissioned in relation to a specific agenda. The pervasive political discourse authoritatively places teenage parents’ experiences outside of the norm, constructing teenage pregnancy as negative for young women, their children and wider society. Over several years we have worked with young mothers to produce visual resources including storyboards, story booklets and film which serve to challenge this dominant discourse. These resources have been used in training and cascaded to health and social care professionals to provide a more holistic picture of the lives of young parents which, in turn, has influenced changes in professional practice. We have found visual images to be a powerful way of encouraging practitioners, young people and wider society to question and reflect on stereotypes which permeate contemporary discourse relating to teenage parents. However, whilst using the arts has led to some very positive experiences for participants who have been able to utilise a range of art based mediums to express and share their lived reality with others, some methods – visual methods in particular – raise a number of ethical, moral and methodological issues. We suggest that whilst there is no doubt that arts based approaches to research and evaluation can be rewarding for both participants and researchers, our work with young mothers highlights tensions and challenges in utilising this approach.

Literat, I. (2013). “A Pencil for your Thoughts”: Participatory Drawing as a Visual Research Method with Children and Youth. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 84–98. https://doi.org/10.1177/160940691301200143

This article explores the use of participatory drawing as a non-mechanical visual research method in qualitative research with children and youth. Because of its co-constructed and playful nature, as well as its lack of dependence on linguistic proficiency, participatory drawing emerges as a highly efficient and ethically sound research strategy that is particularly suited for work with children and young people across a variety of cultural contexts. The analysis of drawn images, complemented by a subsequent discussion of these drawings in the context of their production, has the potential of revealing a more nuanced depiction of concepts, emotions, and information in an expressive, empowering, and personally relevant manner. As a review of the participatory drawing methodology, this article draws on several examples in order to highlight the inherent affordances of the visual mode and discuss the benefits and limitations of using this strategy in research with children and youth.

Teachman, G., & Gibson, B. E. (2018). Integrating Visual Methods With Dialogical Interviews in Research With Youth Who Use Augmentative and Alternative Communication. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406917750945

Abstract. Scant information is available to guide the selection and modification of methods for doing research with people with communication impairments. In this article, we describe and illustrate a novel combination of methods used to optimize data generation in research with 13 disabled youth who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Using a critical dialogical methodology developed for the study, we explored links between dominant calls for social inclusion, disabled youths’ social relations and life circumstances, and their position-takings in relation to inclusion. Building on emergent methodologies, we selected and integrated complementary methods: photo-elicitation, a graphic elicitation method termed “Belonging Circles,” observations, and interviews. The interview methods were modified to recognize all AAC modes used by participants and to acknowledge the relational, situated and thus, dialogical nature of all communication in interviews. Each method is described, and rationales for their selection and modification are discussed. Processes used to combine the methods, generate data, and guide analysis are illustrated using a case example from the study. The integrated methods helped illuminate the lives and practices of youth who use AAC and the strategies they used to negotiate inclusion across the social spaces that they traversed. We conclude with reflections on the strengths and limitations of our approach, future directions for development of the methodology, and its potential use in research with a broad range of persons experiencing communication impairments.

Research with Youth in Crisis

Jenkinson, H., Leahy, P., Scanlon, M., Powell, F., & Byrne, O. (2019). The Value of Groupwork Knowledge and Skills in Focus Group Research: A Focus Group Approach With Marginalized Teens Regarding Access to Third-Level EducationInternational Journal of Qualitative Methodshttps://doi.org/10.1177/1609406919881853

Abstract. This article explores the value of applying groupwork expertise and skills in conducting focus group research. It identifies and provides an analysis of comparisons between the arenas of focus group moderation and social groupwork facilitation drawing from literature from both fields. In addition, the article discusses key skills needed by focus group moderators highlighting how these are also foundational social groupwork competencies. The article draws from the authors’ experiences of designing and facilitating focus groups with teenagers as part of a 2-year research study examining the perceptions and experiences of young people from marginalized communities in relation to accessing third-level education. In light of this analysis, the authors assert that some developments in focus group research methodology have resulted in a greater degree of alignment between these two spheres and that focus group moderation is enhanced and rendered increasingly effective when groupwork skills, knowledge, and insights are employed.

Morris, A., Hegarty, K., & Humphreys, C. (2012). Ethical and safe: Research with children about domestic violence. Research Ethics, 8(2), 125–139. https://doi.org/10.1177/1747016112445420

Abstract. Ethics applications to conduct research with children who have experienced domestic violence will frequently raise a red flag to ethics committees about the potential for risk and re-traumatization. On the other hand, such sensitive research can enable a hidden, marginalized population to have their voices heard. It can deliver findings about children’s lives that can inform otherwise adult-centric research, policy and practice initiatives. The authors highlight ethical concerns and practical solutions using examples from domestic violence, family law and child abuse research with children. Ethical planning is explored according to methodologies, context and whether the violence has been named. Also discussed are consent procedures, confidentiality and the development of protocols for disclosure, distress, safety and risk assessment, which support ethical and safe research with children.

Woodgate, R. L., Tennent, P., & Barriage, S. (2020). Creating Space for Youth Voice: Implications of Youth Disclosure Experiences for Youth-Centered Research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406920958974

Abstract. This paper examines youth’s disclosure experiences within the context of chronic illness, drawing on examples from IN•GAUGE, an on-going research program led by Dr. Roberta L. Woodgate. Youth’s descriptions of their disclosure experiences provide valuable insights into the ways in which they use their voice in everyday life. This examination of the disclosure experiences of youth offers a lens through which the concept of youth voice in the research process can be understood and youth’s agency foregrounded. We present implications for researchers, ethics boards, funding agencies, and others who engage in youth-centered research, and offer alternative terminology to use in characterizing the elicitation and dissemination of youth voice in the research process. We contend that conceptualizing such efforts as giving youth voice has the potential to discredit the significant agency and autonomy that youth demonstrate in sharing their stories, perspectives, and opinions within the research context. We advocate for the adoption of the phrase of providing or creating space for youth voice, as one alternative to the phrase giving youth voice

Research with Indigenous Youth

Bird-Naytowhow, K., Hatala, A. R., Pearl, T., Judge, A., & Sjoblom, E. (2017). Ceremonies of Relationship: Engaging Urban Indigenous Youth in Community-Based Research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406917707899

Abstract. Indigenous communities from around the world, and particularly marginalized youth from within these communities, have not always been adequately included and valued as potential collaborators in various research processes. Instead, research has relegated Indigenous youth to subjects where adults, operating primarily from Western knowledge positions and assumptions, remain the experts. Given the role of research in informing programs and policies, the ways research meaningfully engages and includes Indigenous youth are of key concern. This article presents experiences gained throughout the duration of a study that sought to identify the knowledge, resources, and capabilities required to support the health, resilience, and well-being of Indigenous youth within an urban Canadian context. In particular, this article focuses on methods and approaches of integrating Indigenous knowledge systems throughout the research process and how this can in turn foster meaningful and transformative engagements with Indigenous youth. We argue for the importance and value of traditional cultural practices and knowledge systems and what we call ceremonies of relationships, existent within Indigenous communities around the world, and how their integration in research processes can support constructive and meaningful engagements with Indigenous youth research collaborators.

Liebenberg, L., Sylliboy, A., Davis-Ward, D., & Vincent, A. (2017). Meaningful Engagement of Indigenous Youth in PAR: The Role of Community Partnerships. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406917704095

This article presents the process used in a Participatory Research Project with Canadian Indigenous youth aimed at understanding their civic and cultural engagement. Specifically, we reflect on the approach taken, together with the core role of community partners in facilitating youth participation in this project. The process we used had three key aspects which facilitated effective youth engagement. First was flexibility and adaptability of the original study design, allowing the young people to adjust the project design, increasing their comfort levels and in doing so, assume as much or as little ownership of the process as they wanted. Second was building on preexisting relationships between mental health service provider staff and the community, which accelerated the establishment of trust. Through this trust, new relationships within the research team were able to develop. Third was the support of the youth engagement by the service provider staff, which provided support as required. This process improved the quality of the data collected, related findings, and for effective dissemination. Importantly, this staff–youth interaction has also increased longevity of the dissemination process. Our intent in reflecting on this process here is to further the dialogue on how to meaningfully engage ordinarily silenced and/or marginalized youth in research and evaluation as well as the sharing of findings.

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