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Research Ethics with Children & Young People

Please see the research library for links to further in-depth reading on ethical considerations
















Research with children and young people is vital to help understand their worlds, lived experiences, what they think and feel about issues that affect you.

This can help researchers to learn from and develop new ways to care better. Equally as important as children and young people voices is that they are safeguarded from any potential harm. The aims of research must be balanced equally with the wellbeing and safety of the children and young people.

When designing any research study that involves children or young people, or that has any impact on their worlds researchers need to consider the ethics of what they are proposing to do. Practitioners also need to take into account the ethical frameworks of their accrediting bodies, especially the principle of non-maleficence (do no harm)

All research should be approved by an appropriate ethics committee before any active research takes place.


Points to Consider

Identification and Management of Potential Risk

  • What are your reasons for wanting/needing children in your study and is this justifiable?

  • Are there any risks that you can identify that might cause harm to either children, yourself or other as a direct result of your research

  • How might these risks be eliminated or mitigated to make the research as safe as possible?

When participating in research children do not know, and as researchers, it is not possible to predict what might come up for them as a result of participating. This is particularly important to consider when researching sensitive areas, however, it is not always possible to determine what is a sensitive topic for all children.

Research into children and young peoples lived experiences participating in research suggests that there are four key areas that are where a child or young person might experience harm.

  • Children and young people may worry with hindsight on what they have shared and how it will be used.

  • The researcher may be deeply affected by what they learn whilst spending time with the child and may experience deep concern for either the child or somebody in their family. This can lead to a situation where the researcher may have to report safeguarding concerns.

  • The child or young person may be brought into touch with feelings, memories and hidden trauma, without the adequate follow-up care and support they might need.

  • Participating in research might feel stressful especially if they have experienced trauma in their past, or they are concerned with trying to work out what the researcher wants.​

When selecting participants it is important to take personal history and circumstances into account and consider how these might affect the child or young person taking part in the research. If previous life circumstances are not known the researcher should not seek to ask about them as this may be triggering.

Children need to understand the remit of the research being undertaken and the researcher should not go beyond this if something outside of it piques their interest.

Qualitative research methods go into much greater depth than quantitative methods. They are much more relational. This means that additional topics may arise as part of the research that is unexpected.

Confidentiality needs to be made clear to participants and their parents/ guardians depending on the age of the child.


Depending on the type of research it is not always possible to have a complete cross-section of society however, researchers should be concerned with their research being as inclusive as possible with reasonable adjustments taken into account.

How, where and when the research takes place should be considered to ensure as equal as possible access.

Practitioners need to consider how research is going to be disseminated to the children and those around them. In line with being child-centred, it can be helpful to produce a version of the final results in a child-friendly way.

Informed Consent

It is important that children, young people, parents and teachers or other adults involved fully understand what is being asked of them.

Consent is not a one-off process but needs to be continually reviewed. Children must have the right to withdraw from the study at any time without having to justify their decision, or the parent or carer can withdraw their child. Adults may wish to discuss their concerns and time should be allowed for this. Researchers should regular check-ins with parents and children as consent is an ongoing process.

There should be a complaints procedure made available so parents or children have somewhere to take their concerns if they have not been able to be resolved satisfactorily.

It can be helpful if the research aims, objectives and methodology can be written simply as a copy for parents, carers and children can have to reference back to when they want.

Further useful links for consideration

UKCP Ethical Framework

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

NSPCC Guidelines for Research with Children and Young People

GOV.UK Guidelines for Research with Children and Young People

Unicef Guidelines for Research with Children and Young People

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