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Southern Cross University leads international project to ensure ethical research involving children


Brigid Veale
31 October 2013
A new range of resources has been developed to ensure research conducted with children is ethically sound and that children’s rights are protected throughout the process.

The resources have been released by UNICEF, following the two-year international project ‘Ethical Research Involving Children’, led by Southern Cross University’s Centre for Children and Young People (CCYP) in partnership with UNICEF’s Office of Research, Childwatch International Research Network and the University of Otago.

The resources aim to provide clear guidance on ethical issues and concerns that can be applied in almost any research context to ensure children are respected throughout the process, and their views are reported with integrity.

Professor Anne Graham, director of the CCYP, said the project was important because many researchers felt quite isolated in their research activities, particularly when making informed decisions about core ethical concerns, such as how to balance the protection of children while providing an opportunity for them to participate in research.

“Part of the difficulty lies in the fact there are no clear-cut answers or universal solutions to every ethical concern,” said Professor Graham. “Not least because the range of research contexts and issues being investigated differ so markedly.”

Professor Graham said the main motivation of the CCYP in leading such an ambitious project extended well beyond simply ensuring researchers tick appropriate boxes to indicate they complied with ethical requirements.

“This work is about ensuring the human dignity of children is respected at every stage of the research process, regardless of social, cultural or methodological context. Ultimately we must be confident that research benefits children and contributes knowledge that improves their lives.”

Working with their research partners, the CCYP has undertaken research in 46 countries and consulted with over 400 members of the international research community, to develop an International Charter for Ethical Research Involving Children.

The print-based compendium of resources includes extensive evidence-based ethical guidance on key issues researchers face, a collection of over 20 case studies from diverse contexts, and an inquiry based framework to guide ethical research involving children (aptly called ‘Getting Started’).

The resource materials are complemented by a website specifically designed to provide a rich repository of evidence-based information, resources and links to journal articles, to guide and improve research involving children, and to provide a forum where researchers and others can share questions, ideas and resources.

The director of UNICEF’s Office of Research, Gordon Alexander, said research involving children and hearing the voices of children, for example, had led to results in fields from child rights to health.

“There can be no doubt that research involving children is essential,” Mr Alexander said.

Mr Alexander said the ‘Ethical Research Involving Children’ project provided a ‘fresh take’ by recognising that the values, beliefs and assumptions about children and childhood that underpinned research were a strong foundation on which to build more ethical approaches that respected children’s human rights while advancing knowledge about their lives and the best ways to respond.

Photo: Professor Anne Graham