research well-being - NZ

Research relevant to the
well-being and rights of
Anne B. Smith
University of Otago
NZ-UK Link Foundation Visiting Fellow
Continuation of theme and
Conclusion of Lecture Series
 Moral imperative of children’s rights to make a
difference in children’s lives;
 The role that research and researchers
(together with others) play in promoting reforms
to enhance children’s rights;
 But what should be studied, how should it be
studied, and how should it be reported and
Personal Impetus
 Childwatch International Research Network
 Critical issues in the lives of children
 Promotion of their well-being, rights, participation
 Current conditions of childhood
 Finding a vision and a place in the global community
for our research centre
Children’s Rights/Childhood
Studies Impetus
 “A critique of the ways that children’s lives are
organised and regulated, and childhood undervalued in
modern societies” (Alanen, 2011)
 A concern for social justice and what makes a
difference in children’s lives
 Treating children as agents and social actors reduces
danger of exploitation and neglect of children’s
 Monitoring implementation of children’s rights
Constructions of
“Research is a cultural practice, marked by specific
patterns of adult-child relationships through which
children’s nature is constructed as much as it is revealed”
(Woodhead & Faulkner, 2008). Assumptions about:
 Children’s competence
 Children to be shaped as “becomings”
 What children should be doing (ie not paid work)
Problem with some topics
 Lack of shared meaning between children and adults
 Research vacuum in some important but sensitive areas (eg
child protection)
 Children constructed as vulnerable to harm
 Gatekeepers protecting children
 Adults certain that they can protect children’s best interests
 Worries about what children might say (about families,
professionals, carers)
Choice of approach
 Different research questions demand different research
 Multiple roles for children in research – advisors, coresearchers, initiators, informants, respondents;
 Not all research has to position children as the main
informants, but they should not be rendered invisible;
 Children are participants in helping researchers
advocate for improvements to policy.
Guided Participation
 Guidance/scaffolding promotes children’s capacity to
tell their stories;
 Informed consent requires:
Effective communication (including listening)
Sensitivity to feelings
Warm relationships
Balance of power
 The child positioned as expert
Children as Experts
 “I enjoyed it. There should be more opportunities for us
to say what we think to people that will listen to what
we have to say” (foster care child, Boylan & Ing, 2005)
 “They appeared motivated by their assignment to teach
me about matters of which I knew little so that I could
then pass what I learned on to authorities and service
agencies” (study of children and domestic violence,
Solberg, 2012)
 Mathias’s story of abuse as told to Solberg
Ethics of Respect
 Children “are principal stakeholders in their own wellbeing” (Woodhead & Faulkner).
 The medium is the message – social scientists will
accomplish little without proper respect for child
participants (Gary Melton, 2005)
 To be treated like people (no different from the way
adults expect to be treated) – see BPS
 Respect for (and understanding of) culture such as
body language
What works to help children tell?
 Four year-olds reflecting on their learning using
 Focus group led by researcher
 Focus group led by early childhood teacher
 Interview with child and friend
 Interview with child and mother
 One-to-one interview with child
 Productive conversations emerged from children’s
experience and stimulated recall (Smith, Duncan &
Marshall, 2005)
Feedback and Dissemination
 Children have the right to receive information and ideas
“in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any
other media of the child’s choice” (Article 13)
 Children as stakeholders have the right to hear about
the research findings
 Research publications reach a restricted audience –
not including participants (or policy-makers)
 Feedback usually directed at adults but children can be
Ethical Dilemma – Confidentiality vs
Responsibility to Participants
 Major (ESRC) project on youth crime, anti-social behaviour,
substance abuse, truancy (yearly surveys)
 Aim to understand more about pathways and patterns
 Children said that they had no friends self harmed, used
drugs, adults were abusing them
 But nothing done to help these YP or alert anyone to issues.
School principals readily agreed to research (Sarah Nelson,
2013, “See no evil, hear no evil”)
Approaches to Research 1: The
micro orientation
 Critique of universalizing discourses - “spurious veneer of coherence
on diverse childhoods” (Woodhead & Faulkner, 1996)
 Qualitative studies of children’s views
 Diversity of children’s experience
 Resisting the temptation to overgeneralize findings
 Care of Children Act 2004 recognised danger of over generalizing
 A child must be given reasonable opportunities to express views affecting
the child;
 Any views the child expresses must be taken into account;
 The welfare and best interests of the particular child in his or her particular
circumstances must be considered;
 Regardless of the child’s age it must not be assumed that …[presumption
of contact]
Approaches to Research 2: The
 Jens Qvortrup critique of micro-orientation in the study
of childhood as “ No one method alone can produce all
the knowledge needed”.
 “It is sometimes suggested by researchers that it is
dangerous to generalize, because we lose information;
this is indeed true, but, I would suggest, losing
information in a controlled way is the very idea of
research. It was never the task of researchers to tell
everything they knew; on the contrary, the task was
always to sort out the most important features and
findings” … (Qvortrup, 2008, p. 67)
The need for Plurality
 Paradigm wars are ‘phony’ (Roberts), use of RCT trials were
dismissed as technocratic
 Structural issues require large scale research eg How is
children’s health affected by fiscal restraint? How is
children’s learning influenced by adverse adult-child ratios?
 Evidence should be interpreted broadly – qualitative
research and formative evaluation can contribute, RCT may
be narrow and decontextualised
 Unwise to throw out the baby with the bathwater
(Woodhead, 2009)
Alison James (2007)
“One way forward toward sustaining childhood research
would be to set the by-now commonplace qualitative
studies of children’s own perspectives, voices, and
agency alongside other work that explores the structural
conditions that shape childhood as a generational space.
Such an integration would help ensure that we do not lose
sight of the different impacts that societal forces such as
the market, neoliberalism, the state, urbanization, and so
on have on childhood as a generational unit”. (James,
2007, p. 170)
Optimizing the Uptake
 Problems with linear unidirectional models
 Consumers should be able to set agenda as well as
 Input of policy-makers and practitioners crucial
 Relationships between researchers and users
negotiated over time, require mutual respect and
 Tailoring dissemination to different audiences
Move towards Translational and
Interdisciplinary Research
 Smooth pathways between research and
 Collaboration and communication among researchers,
practitioners and policy-makers;
 Common language and shared criteria for validity;
 Research should “move comfortably between basic
information to application and back again with great
fluidity” (Gunnar & Cicchetti, 2009)
Barriers and Supports for Uptake
 Knowledgeable and
 Contestable and restricted
research savvy public
 Small size, personal
relationships (in NZ)
 Educated practitioners
and NGOs
 Political will and vision to
ask right questions
research funding
 Applied research outputs
not valued in academia
 Political agendas and lack
of political will
 Lack of funding for
 The value of a children’s rights/childhood studies impetus
 How we construct children/childhood shapes what we
research, how we research and how we use research
 Research with children rather than research on children
 Plurality of research approaches recognises the importance
of both structure and agency
 Dangers in narrow view of the ‘evidence-base’
 Collaborations and political will necessary to achieve

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