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Ethical Research Involving Children

Co-producing and navigating consent in participatory research with young people.

Whittington, E. (2019). Co-producing and navigating consent in participatory research with young people. Journal of Children’s Services, 14(3), pp. 205-216.

Purpose: Research within the fields of youth sexuality and safeguarding, and ethical governance more broadly, has traditionally prioritised risk aversion over the rights of young people to participate in and shape research. This excludes younger people from setting agendas and directly communicating their lived experience to those in power. The paper aims to discuss these issues.

Design/methodology/approach: This paper describes and draws upon findings from an innovative two year participatory action research study exploring sexual consent with young people through embedded and participatory research across seven sites. The project was designed with young people and practised non-traditional approaches to research consent. As well as co-producing research data, the findings highlight how methods of co-enquiry and being explicit about the research consent process enabled young people to develop competence that can be applied in other contexts.

Findings: The paper addresses ethical tensions between young people’s rights to participation and protection. It argues that alongside robust safeguarding procedures, there is equal need to develop robust participation and engagement strategies with an explicit focus on young people’s competence, agency and rights to participate regardless of the perceived sensitivity of the topic.

Originality/value: The paper concludes with proposals for future youth-centred research practice. These relate to research design, ethical governance processes around risk and sensitive topics, emphasis on working collaboratively with young people and practitioners, a greater focus on children and young people’s rights – including Gillick competence and fluid models of consent. In doing so, it presents an essential point of reference for those seeking to co-produce research with young people in the UK and beyond.

This article is a part of a special issue entitled, Children’s participation in safeguarding: Ethical and practical considrations. A number of other articles in the issue may be of interest (see Publisher’s Link below).

Publisher’s Link

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