A key component of ERIC is the provision of sound guidance that invites researchers and institutions to reflect critically on the complexities of research involving children. The Guidance elaborates on specific considerations, challenges and questions that arise across unique and diverse research contexts. Reference to particular case studies, featured in full in the Case Studies section and at the end of the compendium, is made throughout this Guidance section with the intent of fostering ‘like to like’ peer learning, dialogue and problem-solving.
Key Areas for Ethical Consideration
Harm and Benefits
The most fundamental consideration in undertaking research involving children is deciding whether the research actually needs to be done, if children need to be involved in it and in what capacity. Accordingly, at the very outset of the research process researchers need to engage with critical issues regarding the purpose of the research and the impact that participating in the research may have on children in terms of potential harm and possible benefits.
Obtaining consent from parents/carers and children is central to the research relationship and signals respect for the research participant’s dignity, their capability to express their views and their right to have these heard in matters that affect them. Informed consent is an explicit agreement which requires participants to be informed about, and have an understanding of, the research. This must be given voluntarily and be renegotiable, so that children may withdraw at any stage of the research process.
Privacy and Confidentiality
Respecting the privacy and confidentiality of children participating in research involves close consideration of several aspects: privacy with regard to how much information the child wants to reveal or share, and with whom; privacy in the processes of information gathering/data collection and storage that allows the exchange of information to be confidential to those involved; and privacy of the research participants so that they are not identifiable in the publication and dissemination of findings.
Payment and Compensation
Research participants should be appropriately reimbursed for any expenses, compensated for effort, time or lost income, and acknowledged for their contribution. Payment should be avoided if it potentially pressures, coerces, bribes, persuades, controls, or causes economic or social disadvantage. The guiding principles of justice, benefit and respect underpin the need for research participants to be properly acknowledged, adequately recompensed and given fair returns for their involvement.
Researchers and others involved in research with children are ultimately responsible for ensuring that research is ethical. Critical engagement with ethical considerations in research requires knowledge and skills, which are sustained and enhanced by appropriate, ongoing support, training and opportunities for professional development. Ethics review boards also have a role to play in supporting researchers in ethical research practice.