Analysis of two published articles on research with children and young people
Summary of Main Argument
The article by Pimlott-Wilson (2012) focuses on the use of visual and play-based activities as a method of social science research with children and young people. Three case studies are presented within the article with each case study describing a different visual method. Lego Duplo toys were used by children to create a model of their own homes and to enact the roles of the different people within their home.
An activity entitled ‘Rainbows and Clouds’ was used to allow children to express both the positive and negative feelings regarding their parents’ unemployment, and finally, mood-boards were used to allow children and young people to explore feelings about various experiences. Each visual method of research is claimed to be a useful and valid way of letting young people and children express their feelings and experiences. The relevance of our visual sense is discussed in the introduction and its importance in expressing ourselves is explored, for example through the medium of photography. A recent move away from seeing young people and children as subjects to be observed and interpreted at a distance, toward seeing them as subjects to work with and alongside is also discussed, a move that has allowed a more valid reflection of their real life experiences. The article concludes that visual research methods are able to improve the research process with young people and children and increase the ecological validity of such research as the young participants are more able to express their thoughts and feelings.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Research Methods Discussed
The article by Pimlott-Wilson (2012) examines the usefulness of three different visual research methods all of which have both strengths and weaknesses. A key strength of all three of the visual research methods discussed in the article is their ability to give children and young people, who may struggle with verbal expression an opportunity to fully express themselves in a less pressurised way. Pimlott-Wilson (2012) also argues that the methods can overcome difficulties that children may have expressing themselves if their drawing skills are poor. It has been argued that un-reliable and poor data provided by children and young people is often the fault of the adult researchers who tend to treat children in an ‘adult-ist’ way, perhaps through intimidation or subjectivity in the interpretation of results (Alderson, 1995). The use of more child-friendly methods in the research described by Pimlott-Wilson (2012) allowed children to express themselves in a more familiar and comfortable way thus limiting the power gap between child and researcher and fostering a more collaborative relationship, a key strength in research with children and young people that has been advocated by Robinson and Gillies (2012). This more child-friendly approach also reduced the need for subjectivity in interpreting results. A child or young person who feels more comfortable and able to express their true thoughts, feelings and experiences is likely to produce a clearer and easier to interpret product because they are able to be more open and honest. In turn, this gives the study good content validity. However, it should be noted that some children expressed worry about parents or carers seeing what had been written during the ‘Rainbows and Clouds’ activity. Therefore, in order to maximise these research methods’ abilities to make children and young people feel at ease, issues of confidentiality must be fully addressed.
Despite the noted strengths of the research methods discussed, there are also a number of weaknesses that should be highlights. A key weakness of the research method using Lego Duplo toys is unknowingly identified by the author herself early on in the text when it is noted that the toy is an important cultural experience for Western children. This limits both the generalisability of any findings made through the use of Lego Duplo toys as well as the usefulness of the method with non-Western cultures. Furthermore, as is pointed out by the author, the use of Lego Duplo toys as a visual research method creates a blurry line between where a real life representation ends and a child’s imagination begins.
Secondly, the research methods used appear quite time consuming and engaging young children especially can be challenging over a long period of time. Children or young people can become easily bored and may begin to fabricate answers. Furthermore, each visual research method discussed would require a reasonably detailed explanation of both the activity and what is required of the child. This could become extremely limiting when trying to use these types of research methods with children with communication disorders. This refutes that author’s argument that the methods are ideal for using with children who struggle with verbal communication.
Summary of Main Argument
This article is a book review of “Children caring for parents with HIV and AIDS: Global issues and policy responses” by Evans and Becker (2009). The book discusses a comparative research project carried out in both the UK and Tanzania, which explored the global issues and policies surrounding the role of young people caring for parents diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. Robson (2009) critically evaluates the book and identifies the key strengths and limitations of both the study that was carried out and the subsequent book. The result is a short summary and review of the book that evaluates each chapter in its own right. The key strengths identified include a thorough and concise literature review and the clear lay-out of the book. The key limitations of the book identified by Robson (2009) include a somewhat misleading book title. Although the title suggests that the study investigated children caring for parents, in reality only children caring for mothers or female guardians were included. Overall, the main argument of the article is in favour of the study reported by Evans and Becker (2009). Robson (2009) concludes that the book provides “the most substantial research on children caring for adults with HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa to date,” and could be used to make valuable contributions to policies regarding young carers.
There are a number of ethical considerations discussed by Robson (2009) regarding the study by Evans and Becker (2009). Firstly, Robson (2009) highlights Evans and Becker’s (2009) admittance that their sample “cannot be seen as representative of young people with caring responsibilities in families affected by HIV and AIDS across Tanzania and the UK.” Knowingly carrying out research with children that will be limited in its generalisability and contribution to improving the lives of such children could be argued to be unethical. Robson (2009) also notes that Evans and Becker (2009) fail to include a key text by Lather and Smithies (1997). Combined with a lack of generalisability, this has potential ethical implications as failure to review all the relevant literature for their topic may have led the authors to make un-sound policy recommendations. It is unclear from the Robson (2009) review whether the authors did so but it will have been essential for the authors to make it clear in any recommendations can be applied to children providing care for female relatives only.
Beazley et al. (2009) advocate a rights-based approach when carrying out research with children. Such an approach views children as subjects and not just objects of research. The authors further argue that academic theories can often be ‘disconnected’ from the real life experiences of children because they are generated and developed through the eyes of adults. Although Robson (2009) does not provide details about the methods used by Evans and Becker (2009) it appears as though the information gathered may have been through observation or inference. For example, Robson (2009) notes that chapters six and seven of the book detail how the children’s carer roles impact on themselves, their families, their schools and communities, a topic that would be challenging for many children to grasp and to answer. Therefore, it seems likely that Evans and Becker (2009) did not respect children’s right to be properly researched and as a result, may not have gained a true reflection of the lives of these children or the support that they really require.
Another ethical consideration discussed by Robson (2009) is the way in which participants were recruited for the study. All participants were recruited through non-government and statutory support organisations meaning that they were all receiving some kind of support. It could be argued that this was an unethical method of recruitment as through neglecting to find and research children and families without support, the authors were also neglecting to increase the awareness of support for children in such situations. It is also unclear as to the how consent was gained and whether it was made clear to the children involved that they were free to stop participation at any time, an important research element when working with children referred to as informed dissent (Ennew and Plateau, 2004). Despite these ethical considerations, overall Robson (2009) paints a picture of an ethically sound study commenting that the study by Evans and Becker (2009) used an “ethically sensitive participatory methodology.” However, there are no details given as to why Robson (2009) makes this statement.
Alderson, P. (1995) Listening to Children: Children, Ethics and Social Research. Ilford: Barnado’s.
Beazley, H., Bessell, S., Ennew, J. and Waterson, R. (2009) The right to be properly researched: research with children in a messy, real world. Children’s Geographies, 7(4), pp. 365-378.
Ennew, J. and Plateau, D.P. (2004) How to research the physical and emotional punishment of children. Bangkok: International Save the Children Southeast, East Asia and Pacific Region Alliance.
Evan, R. and Becker, S. (2009) Children caring for parents with HIV and AIDS: global issues and policy responses. Bristol: Policy Press.
Lather, P. and Smithies, C. (1997) Troubling the angels: women living with HIV/AIDS. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Robson, E. (2009) Children caring for parents with HIV and AIDS: global issues and policy responses. Children’s Geographies, 7(4), pp. 487-488.
Robinson, Y. and Gillies, V. (2012) Introduction: developing creative methods with children and young people. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 15(2), pp. 87-89.