The last decade has seen increased global focus on research with young children within and across a range of disciplines (Farrell, 2016). The period, birth to age eight years, known colloquially as the ‘early years’ or ‘early childhood’, has been conceptualized as pivotal to young children’s current wellbeing and future life chances and, in turn, the increasing focus of research within the disciplines of education, health, human services, developmental science, law, economics and neuroscience. New theoretical perspectives, expanded methodological approaches and fresh lines of inquiry are being brought to bear on the ethical design, conduct and dissemination of early childhood research (Kagan, Tisdall & Farrell, 2016). The global focus on ethical research with young children has been prefaced, to some extent, by global recognition of the rights of children to participation and protection in everyday activities (Tisdall, 2012). Despite the focus on children and their rights, child research is largely an adult enterprise serving adult-driven agendas, albeit driven by genuine adult concern for children’s rights to participation and protection. On the one hand, it is driven by the imperative to protect children, quite rightly, from risk of harm, often drawing upon normative views of child development and young children’s pre-competence or developmental incapacity to consent to, participate in or withdraw from research. On the other hand, there is a growing quest to listen to and consult with children as competent and active research participants, while still enacting protective ethical obligations towards them (Alderson & Morrow, 2011). While much child research claims to be with children rather than on, for or about children, the enterprise is typically driven by the agendas of research productivity, performativity and empirical leverage of research within policy and provision for young children – by and for adults. The upshot is that some children, families and communities increasingly experience the over-burden of research, their demographic characteristics making them prime sites for research and their participation essential for attaining research targets and outputs. The enterprise of ethical research with children calls for ethical consideration of the adult performance-driven agendas that drive much child research. It calls for consideration of the agency and active participation of children, families in communities in ways that respect their decision to engage in the research and greater affordances of co-constructed research for children and adults than is currently the case.
Alderson, P., & Morrow, V. (2011). The ethics of research with children and young people. A practical handbook (2nd Ed).London: Sage.
Farrell, A. (2016). Ethics in early childhood research. In A. Farrell, S.L. Kagan & E.K.M. Tisdall (Eds.), Sage handbook of early childhood research (pp. 163-184). London: Sage.
Kagan, S.L., Tisdall, E.K.M., & Farrell, A. (2016). Future directions in early childhood research: Addressing next-step imperatives, In A. Farrell, S.L. Kagan & E.K.M. Tisdall (Eds.), Sage handbook of early childhood research (pp. 517-534). London: Sage.
Tisdall, E.K.M, (2012). Taking forward child and young people’s participation. In M Hill, G. Head, A. Lockyer, B. Reid & R. Taylor (Ed), Children’s services: Working together (pp.151-162). Harlow: Pearson.
This post may be cited as:
Farrell A. (2017, 23 October 2017) Ethical research with young children: Whose research, whose agenda? Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/ethical-research-young-children-whose-research-whose-agenda