Ethical Research Involving Children

Involving children in health and social research: ‘Human becomings’ or ‘active beings’?

Balen, R., Blyth, E., Calabretto, H., Fraser, C., Horrocks, C., & Manby, M. (2006). Involving children in health and social research: ‘Human becomings’ or ‘active beings’? Childhood, 13(1). pp. 29-48.


Abstract: This article draws on the authors’ experiences of undertaking health and social research involving children in Australia and England and focuses on securing the informed consent of children to participate in such research. A clear trend within literature, service provision, legislation and international conventions recognizes children as ‘active beings’ in all aspects of their lives. The services that are the focus of the research and evaluation projects in which the authors have been involved sought to empower children as active agents and decision-makers. Crucially, not only were these services available directly to children without requiring parental permission, but many children were also accessing these services without their parents’ knowledge. However, when it came to researching and evaluating users’ experiences of these services, the authors faced the problem that existing research gatekeeping systems tended to construct children as dependent, in need of protection and as ‘human becomings’. The authors found that research ethics committees would permit the research to take place only if both the child’s informed consent and that of his or her parents was obtained. The authors outline the implications of such dilemmas, which may not only be counter productive in terms of research objectives but also risk failing to afford children rightful regard in contemporary society. While the authors conclude that there are no quick fixes to the resolution of such dilemmas, they believe that researchers need to engage with the gatekeepers of research to ensure that the laudable effort to protect potentially vulnerable participants avoids overprotection, paternalism and the further disenfranchisement of already marginalized young people. (The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Childhood, 13/1, 02/2006 by SAGE Publications, Ltd., All rights reserved. © Sage Publications Ltd.).

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