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Ethical Research Involving Children



I was wondering if anyone could offer advice as to how to deal with promising a child confidentiality, but then having to report suspected abuse to legal authorities. How do you explain this to a child before the research begins?

I look forward to hearing from other researchers working with children,





  • Lucy

    January 17, 2013


    for my research I normally let the children know that everything is confidential unless they tell me something which makes me suspect they may be in danger or hurt, and then I tell them I need to tell a safe person like a doctor or a police officer (or relevant other). My research topics aren’t sensitive by nature so I haven’t had to do so yet though. I’m not sure how it would work when you are dealing with sensitive topics though???


  • Fran

    March 10, 2013

    Hi Kate,

    we’ve just finished a large scale study with children investigating abuse. At the start of each interview our interviewers explained that everything the children say will be confidential except for cases where we think that the child may be in danger, will get seriously hurt or might need help. Usually, if abuse cropped up during the interview the interviewers would discuss afterwards with the child what the options were – i.e. self-referral to a child abuse telephone helpline (generally for kids with high levels of anxiety or depression and abuse in the past), the local social services office for children with ongoing abuse issues or the local counselling service for kids with high levels of suicide ideation. Most of the kids were very happy to be helped and actively requested help during the interviews.

    All the best,


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