Involving children in social research: balancing the risks and benefits

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Date Commenced:
Expected Date of Completion:
Project Supporters:

Australian Catholic University/ ARC Discovery Project Shared Grant

Project Members: 
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Dr Jenny Chalmers
Conjoint Senior Lecturer
Project Main Description: 

There is a growing consensus that children’s involvement in social research is important, but considerable uncertainty remains around children’s inclusion in research on ‘sensitive’ issues, reflecting concerns about how to balance children’s protection with their participation. Key to this are deeply embedded assumptions and beliefs about, children and childhood, especially concerning notions of capacity, agency, vulnerability, and dependency. This goal of this study is to better understand and address the tensions between the protection of children and young people and their participation in social research about sensitive issues. It will do this by exploring how HRECs, parents, others gatekeepers and children themselves manage and navigate these tensions.

Project Collaborators: External: 

Associate Professor Stephanie Taplin
Australian Catholic University

Professor Morag McCarthur
Australian Catholic University

Professor Anne Graham
Southern Cross University

Dr Merle Spriggs
University of Melbourne

Dr Tim Moore
Australian Catholic University

  1. Describe the processes through which children’s participation in research is determined, asking: what are the ontological (the way children are constructed), epistemological (what children know), methodological, ethical, professional, ideological and practical factors that influence the decisions of HRECs, gatekeepers, parents and children.
  2. Identify the key barriers and enablers to children’s participation in research about sensitive issues.
  3. Identify, through the use of scenarios, the factors that influence decision-making including: how gatekeepers assess risk level and the appropriateness of particular research topics and methodologies.
  4. Use the information collected to provide more nuanced and urgently-needed guidance to HRECs and other gatekeepers on how to best identify the risks and benefits of children’s participation in research, and guidance to researchers on how to help ensure children's rights and wellbeing are attended to throughout the entire research process.
Design and Method: 

Stage 1: Qualitative interviews with stakeholders – (Ethics approval is requested for this stage only).

Stage 1 involves interviews with key stakeholders, including children, to inform the subsequent project stages. It will allow the researchers to explore how gatekeepers such as HRECs, parents, government and non-government agencies, conceptualise, make decisions about and utilise research with children, and identify potential differences between the different stakeholders.

Stage 2: Online census of HRECs nationally

Stage 2 surveys Australian HRECs and provides three windows into the ethical review of research with children by HRECs in Australia: their policies, their practices (what they do), and what they say they will do in a given set of circumstances. The results will, for the first time in Australia, quantify the factors considered important by HRECs in relation to children’s participation in research, identify the common and diverse factors in HRECs’ ethical review of research with children across Australia, and provide the HRECS responses to common research scenarios for comparison with Stage 3 respondents.

Stage 3: Online survey with gatekeepers, parents, children and young people

Stage 3 surveys gatekeepers, parents, children and young people (aged 13-17 years) about their views of children’s participation in research and methods for managing potential risks, and tests their responses to different research scenarios. The results will, for the first time, quantify the factors considered important by gatekeepers, parents, children and young people in consenting to children’s participation in social research about sensitive issues, and their responses to common research scenarios for comparison with HRECs respondents (Stage 2).

Stage 4: Qualitative study with children aged 7-12 years

Stage 4 gives children aged 7-12 years an opportunity to participate in discussions regarding their involvement in social research, through focus groups. The results will identify the factors considered important by younger children in deciding to participate in social research. These findings will be compared with the results from young people, parents, HRECs and gatekeepers gathered in the earlier stages of the project.


A Reference Group has been established and the first Reference Group meeting held. Ethics approval has been gained. The Stage 1 interviews have been undertaken and analysis of the interview data is under way.


None to date.

Project Status: