Lucy Rodriguez Leon is a lecturer in Early Childhood at the Open University
At time of writing, we’re several months into the Covid-19 crisis and the ‘second wave’ is gathering speed; on a personal level, the longevity of the situation is beginning to sink in. Children’s worlds continue to be disrupted in ways we could not have imagined at the beginning of the year.
In the past, young people’s accounts of significant world events have offered unique insights that will never be found in history books or political rhetoric, such as the Diaries of Anne Frank. However, today children and young people have a range of media platforms that operate on a spectrum of private to public. I often wonder what Anne would have written had she known her paper diaries would be published for a global audience of millions, or had she had access to instant messaging or a blog.
ISBN-13: 978-0241952436 (Penguin)
Over the last few months many researchers have developed some creative approaches to capture and record children’s subjective realities of the pandemic as they emerge. My inbox and social media feeds have received a steady stream of information about covid-19 response projects. These include academic research into a range of educational and social issues using various methodologies. Community facing projects have aimed to collate children’s diary entries (consensually) to eventually publish an anthology as a record of this historic event. Other projects have consulted with children on how particular Covid issues affect them. Yet, I am still grappling with how this research can be genuinely participatory and authentically capture children’s perspectives on the issues that actually matter to them. Moreover, how can we do this ethically?
These projects face all the ethical challenges of any research with children; access, gatekeepers, fully informed consent, protection from exploitation or harm and accessible methods, for example. Some projects address these ethical and safeguarding challenges through insisting on parental involvement and mediation. Yet, arguably, participatory research requires trusting relationships to be forged and nurtured between researchers and participants, it requires dialogue, time for reflection, co-construction of ideas and thinking, collaboration – it is a process built on social interaction and connection, at a time that we are practicing social distancing. Of course, the affordances of digital technology have, to some extent, overcome the social distancing challenges.
However, the most concerning ethical dilemma, in my view, is researchers’ ability to respond to the issues that young participants might raise. In some respects, there has been great camaraderie and community positivity during the pandemic (think ‘Captain Tom’, rainbows and the ‘Clap for Carers’), but equally there are reports of children feeling isolated or going hungry, there have been escalations of domestic violence and unprecedented job losses, all taking their toll on children’s wellbeing. Furthermore, the nature of a global pandemic means that too many of our young citizens are living through bereavement.
There is undoubtedly a rich opportunity to capture children and young peoples’ perspectives of the pandemic, yet I’m curious about how researchers are honouring their ethical responsibilities. Firstly, how can we ensure that research offers a supportive space for participants to explore, discuss, express, connect and make sense of the ongoing and evolving situation. Secondly, in what ways will all children’s voices be authentically represented in research or in any resultant anthologies, particularly if parent or teacher mediated? Is there a danger that some voices are being heard, whilst others are being marginalised?
Dr Lucy Rodriguez Leon is a Lecturer in Early Childhood at the Open University and co-convenor of the UKLA Early Years Special Interest Group
4 thoughts on “Ethical challenges in researching children’s experiences of the Covid-19 crisis: some reflections”
Many thanks ace points here Lucy. It is tough to find ways to meet and hear from the young at this time, especially those who, as you note, are suffering the most. Might medical/social care researchers be better positioned to do so than education researchers? Of course there are ethical issues also. Not an easy dilemma but their voices deserve to be heard, not ignored or glossed over.
A thoughtful post Lucy. What struck me was the haste with which we as researchers looked to capture data about Covid -19 knowing we had to be both timely and responsive – and also if we are honest that this was a great opportunity to gather some interesting data. However we also know that haste in research can elbow reflection out of the way.
This post was timely for me – I tweeted yesterday an article in the Guardian about the huge variations in school attendance across the UK as a result of the pandemic. As is so often the case, attendance rates reflect the gap between rich and poor. Your blog made me wonder how we can hear the voices of children who, for whatever reason, are not in school. Maybe Teresa has a point, that medical/social care researchers might reach these children more easily, but really hearing their voices and responding to them, is a monumental challenge.
A timely, thoughtful and reflective piece Lucy. Thank you.