Ethical Research Involving Children

Developing ethical guidelines for safeguarding children during social research.

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), pp. 120-127.

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. (The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Research Ethics, 6/4, December 2010 by SAGE Publications, Ltd., All rights reserved. Abstract reproduced by permission © SAGE Publications, Ltd.).

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