PHD BLOG – COMPLEXITIES AND CHALLENGES IN RESEARCH WITH CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE

Happy New Year from the BSC postgraduate committee! The first of our PhD blogs for 2017 is from Claire Paterson-Young. Claire is a PhD candidate a the University of Northampton in the Institute for Social innovation and Impact. Her research is focused on social impact measurement as a form of organisation performance management in enhancing the outcomes for young offenders.

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Claire completed her undergraduate degree in Criminology and has a Master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice. She has worked as a Restorative Justice Practitioner and Youth Intensive Support Co-ordinator, which forded her the opportunity to develop her practical skills and knowledge in the criminal and youth justice field. This led in to her managing the Youth and Restorative Services within the Whole System Approach agenda. Here she led the Restorative Justice Workstream for developing and updating the Restorative Justice processes and procedures in Scotland. In addition, Claire was central in developing the organisations Safeguarding and Getting It Right For Every Child agenda.

 After relocating to England, Claire managed a specialised semi-independent provision for children and young people at risk of child sexual exploitation. Developing a special interest in child sexual exploitation, she moved to a Child Sexual Exploitation Coordinator role in the West Midlands. Claire currently lectures at the University of Northampton and University of Bedfordshire in Law and Youth Justice. She also delivers specialised Child Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Training nationally for a charity.

Contact: clcpaterson@gmail.com                             Twitter: @clcpaterson

The complexities and challenges in conducting research with children and young people in custody.

Youth crime and offending continues to receive considerable political, academic and media attention. The attention on young people in the United Kingdom is categorised by ‘respectable fears’, which Pearson (1983) described as the growing anxiety with regards to rebellious and threatening young people (Pearson, 1983). These ‘respectable fears’ have contributed to the expansion of the youth justice system and resulted in developments to mainstream youth justice services. The expansion and development of services in the financial climate has resulted in emphasis on developing effective and sustainable youth offending interventions in custody to reduce youth offending (Nevill and Lumley, 2011). Developing effective and sustainable interventions that enhance outcomes for children and young people have generally relied on output or outcome data, with limited importance placed on the wider long-term impact (such as employability, relationships, independence and emotional resilience). To understand impact, the views of children and young people are central; therefore, conducting research with focus on facilitating the active participation of children and young people in custody is important. Conducting research with children and young people is complex and challenging in any environment; however, in a custodial environment, the researcher will encounter further challenges. This post will explore the complexities and challenges of conducting research in this environment and the importance of experience in engaging children and young people.
Ethical questions are integral to any research, with particular importance in research with children and young people. The central ethical considerations for research cover: confidentiality and anonymity; voluntary informed consent; data protection and storage; and the safeguarding of participants. For conducting research with children and young people, such ethical considerations receive significant attention. However, another area that requires attention surrounds the researcher’s experience. Has the researcher worked with vulnerable children and young people? Does the researcher understand that relationships can develop in seconds? Does the researcher understand the impact of new people on the lives of participants? Exploring the researcher’s experience and knowledge of working with children and young people demonstrates the researcher’s experience and knowledge of the vulnerabilities of children and young people in this environment. Another area for consideration was the process for accessing a secure custodial environment for research purposes is challenging, particularly for research concerning the views of children and young people. Before entering a custodial environment, the researcher was required to complete training and a stringent vetting process and complete training. This process ensured the continued safety and security of children, young people and staff members.

Exploring the effectiveness and wider impact of services from the perception of children and young people are important for identifying “what works?” Collecting information on the perceptions of children and young people relies on the researcher developing appropriate data collection methods (e.g. interviews, questionnaire or observation). Before collecting data, the researcher must consider the power dynamics of conducting research with children and young people in custody. The researcher must ensure children and young people have a clear understanding of the research aims and objectives before consenting. To conduct research with children and young people, the researcher must consider the literacy age and level of understanding. This requires the researcher to understand the cohort of children and young people in the population to adapt the research material appropriately in order to ensure a clear understanding. Another issue the researcher must consider in conducting research with children and young people is the power dynamic. One method of addressing this power dynamic is by implementing child centred research methods based on the preferred communication methods of young people. Child-centred research methods may include the use of photographs, activities, diaries and worksheets (Barker and Weller, 2003). Considering child-centred research methods was important for research, however, recognising the age and position of young people participating in research was equally important. In conducting research with children and young people in custody, the researcher used traditional research methods (questionnaires, interviews and observation) with adjustments recognising the age and position of young people. This allowed the researcher to accurately capture the narratives of children and young people in custody.

Entering a custodial environment for the first time is daunting, but, entering a custodial environment with children and young people is an entirely different world.

References
1. Barker, J. and Weller, S. (2003) “Is it fun?” Developing children centred research methods. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 23(1/2), 33-58.
2. Hendrick, H., (2006) Histories of Youth Crime and Justice in Goldson, B. and Muncie, J. (2006) Youth Crime and Justice. London: Sage Publications.
3. Nevill, C. and Lumley, T. (2011) Impact measurement in the youth justice sector. [online] Available at: file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/99904661/My%20Documents/Downloads/Youth-justice-measurement-FINAL2%20(2).pdf. Accessed on: 9 September 2015.
4. Pearson, G. (1983) Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears. London: Macmillan.

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