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How is collaboration helping improve approaches to research involving children?

08 Oct 2021
How do we balance children’s rights to participation and protection and the tensions this can create

By Anne Graham, Nicola Taylor

 

Consortium on Ethical Research Involving Children (ERIC) continues to develop resources to help ensure children’s participation in research is respectful and safe.

The influence of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on research practice is now well recognized, particularly in relation to children’s right to participation. This has coincided with significant advances in childhood scholarship across geographies and disciplines — challenging assumptions about the legitimacy of children’s involvement. This movement has ushered in greater development and refinement of methods and tools to help ensure children’s participation is not only relevant and engaging, but also safe. 

Such shifts are promising, but do they guarantee the research that is planned, or undertaken, is ‘ethical’? And what do we mean by ‘ethical’ anyway, given the very diverse contexts for research involving children? How do we balance children’s rights to participation and protection and the tensions this can create? Do researchers and other stakeholders (funders, ethics review boards, parents/guardians) have ready access to the support, guidance and tools they need to reflect critically on these tensions and the ethical decision-making often required ‘in situ’ and at the start of, as well as throughout, the research process? 

These are the kinds of questions that inspired an international consortium to embark on an ambitious project, now widely known as ‘ERIC’ (the Ethical Research Involving Children project). The consortium comprised: 

The initial aim of the consortium was to consider whether more could be done to translate the rights afforded to children under the UNCRC into a platform or framework to enhance the quality of research, ensuring respect for and protection of children and providing support for researchers across very diverse global contexts. In this blog we reflect on the journey of ‘ERIC’, where it began, where we are now, and where we would like to go next. 

From its inception, ERIC (Ethical Research Involving Children) has been an international collaboration. The seeds for the project were sown in conversations and meetings within the Childwatch International Research Network (comprising 50 global child research centres) during 2004-2011. Extensive research and consultation with the international research community then led to the launch of the ERIC resources in 2013 which included extensive print-based on online resources. Eight years on, the original ERIC compendium, which includes an ethics Charter and extensive guidance on specific considerations, challenges and questions that arise across diverse contexts, has been translated into 6 languages and the associated website is accessed in over 185 countries attracting on average 2000 visitors each month. The website now houses a growing bank of international case studies, an online interactive glossary and a specially curated library of the latest literature on ethical research involving children. It also includes an expert blog, with contributions from leading international scholars and others engaged in cutting-edge research involving children including, most recently, a contribution by young people themselves – members of the International and Canadian Child Rights Partnership Child and Youth Advisory Group. The ERIC website is now an active hub for researchers across all levels of experience, as well as other research stakeholders. 

ERIC has become the international ‘bible’ for ethical child research. It has evolved from the original idea of being a ‘go to’ repository of resources to an ongoing international conversation around some of the most vexed ethical issues researchers and others navigate as we all seek to balance children’s participation and protection rights in very different contexts. 

As longstanding partners, UNICEF, CCYP, CIC and CIRN are immensely proud of what ERIC has achieved, as evidenced by the sheer numbers of researchers accessing the website globally and the sharing of experiences, questions, concerns and stories about their engagement with research ethics.

The initiative continues to attract funding as well as requests for presentations, training and other capacity building activities. ERIC is thriving and we remain committed to its continued evolution to meet future need. In exploring ‘what next’ we want to hear and know what practitioners and other stakeholders need, what are the supports that will help in their reflexive practice, how can we further build and support the community to undertake research in the challenging environments that children are growing up in? To this end, we are currently running ERIC’s first user survey for future support resources and directions.

 

Keep up to date with ERIC via its dedicated social media channels (Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn), or join the mailing list here.


Professor Anne Graham is Professor of Childhood Studies and Founding Director of the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University, Australia. She was one of the original initiators and founders of the Ethical Research Involving Children (childethics.org) programme and continues to co-lead the programme in partnership with the UNICEF Office of Research.

Professor Nicola Taylor holds the Alexander McMillan Leading Thinker Chair in Childhood Studies and is the Director of the Children’s Issues Centre at the University of Otago, New Zealand. She was also one of the original initiators and founders of the Ethical Research Involving Children programme.