Noble-Carr, D. (2006). Engaging children in research on sensitive issues : a literature review. ii-58.
It is now widely accepted that children should be actively involved in any research project that seeks to understand and respond appropriately to children’s unique perspectives and experiences. The challenge that lies ahead for those researchers committed to hearing children’s voices, is how to do this in a way that is both effective and ethical. Fortunately, over the last two decades, there has been a growing interest in finding better ways to facilitate children’s voices in all aspects of the research process. This has resulted in a wealth of information for potential researchers to draw on when engaging in research with children. Inherent to this growing commitment of involving children in research has been the willingness of researchers to critically reflect on their chosen methodologies and share their experiences of what has, and hasn’t, worked. Such commitment to critical thinking and reflexive practice enables innovative and flexible research models to evolve and this has been particularly helpful in trying to piece together a best practice framework from which our own study of ‘children’s experiences of homelessness’ can be based. Although many Australian studies were uncovered in this literature review, the UK proved to be the greatest source of best practice models for engaging children in social research. The vast amount of literature being published in the UK is most probably due to the Economic and Social Research Council’s ‘Children 5-16 Research Programme’. This programme was a major effort to throw light on contemporary childhood in the UK. Lasting for over five years (1995–2001), it comprised 22 linked research projects, each looking at a different aspect of children’s social lives, living conditions, experiences and perspectives (see Prout, 2002).
Although the ages of the child research subjects in the literature did vary, most studies provided examples of research conducted with children aged 7-16 years of age. This may have been influenced by the amount of publications stemming from the ‘Children 5-16 Research Programme’. However, it is important to acknowledge that some studies demonstrated the possibility of successfully engaging preschool aged children in projects seeking to gain insights into their thoughts, ideas and experiences of the world (see Kendrick, 1986 cited in Alderson, 2003; Fine & Sandstrom, 1988; MacNaughton, 2003; Clark & Moss, 2004 cited in Fraser, 2004; Corsaro, 2005). One of the most encouraging aspects of this literature review was the diversity of topics successfully investigated with the active participation of children. This included research on sensitive issues such as:
• Out-of-home care and child protection systems (Johnson, Yoken & Voss, 1995; West, 1996; Thomas & O’Kane, 1998; Daly, Moss & Reay, 2003; Mason, Urquhart & Bolzan, 2003; O’Neill, 2004; Aubrey & Dahl, 2006;) • Homelessness (Young & Barrett, 2001; Edwards, 2003; Jurak, 2003) • Crime (Pain et al, 2002) • Perceptions of problems and coping strategies (Punch 2002a) • Illness and pain (Horner, 2000; Kourtesluoma, Hentinen & Nikkonen, 2003) • Poverty (Ridge, 2003) • Wellbeing (Hill, Laybourn & Borland, 1996) • Young caring (Mahon, Glendinning, Clarke & Craig, 1996) • Respite services for children with a disability (Save the Children, 2001) • How children negotiate independence in rural Bolivia (Punch, 2002b) • Violence against children (Laws & Mann, 2004; Beazley et al 2005) • Children and risk (Harden et al, 2000).
Institute of Child Protection Studies
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