The aim of this guidance paper, produced by a
working group on behalf of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA),
is to advise on good practice principles for undertaking research with children
(defined in Ireland as people below the age of 18).
The need to protect children when they are
involved in research is self-evident, but it has taken a relatively long time
to translate this notion into policy and practice. The history of research endeavour
includes many unethical practices involving children – from intrusive and
invasive procedures, to the over-investigation of some populations.
Organisations caring for children sometimes regarded them as a ready source of
research data with little regard to the ethical issues involved. The voices of
children were rarely heard in research and their potential to contribute to its
The objective of this document is to provide
ethical guidance for developing research projects involving children across a
range of disciplines, from medicine to the social sciences. The impetus came
firstly from a Department of Children and Youth Affairs’ commissioned report on
ethical issues and children’s research, which identified a lack of
standardisation in this area (Felzmann et al, 2010). Another incentive was to
use the knowledge developed from ethical deliberations relating to the Growing Up in Ireland study. Part of this
project has been the development of rigorous ethical procedures to both protect
children and facilitate their participation in the research process.
The Working Group was largely formed from the
GUI Research Ethics Committee and, as with the latter, participants came from a
variety of disciplinary backgrounds – research, clinical, ethical/legal, as
well as representatives from agencies serving children. It also included DCYA officials
Dr. Sinéad Hanafin and Bairbre Meaney. Each committee member brought specific
skills, but the success of the Working Group was due to the exceptional
commitment they gave to the work, including the drafting of this guidance. The
objective of the group, and this national guidance, is to safeguard children
within research and to assist researchers to do better, more creative
investigations with and for children.