Engaging Children and Young People

Involving children and young people in evaluation involves careful thought and consideration.

When working with diverse groups of people who face barriers to participating in evaluation activities, including children and young people, there are particular ethical considerations.

Research designs involving children and young people must account for ethical considerations such as their capacity to understand the research/ evaluation and what it means to consent, as well as how to manage power dynamics, and the potential for possible coercion by parents, or conflicting values and interests of parents and children.[1]

There is a tension to be navigated between ensuring children and young people are not placed at unnecessary risk in studies of new interventions, balanced against the right of children to participate in evaluation.[2] We recognise that children and young people are experts in their own lives,[3] and that there are developmental benefits for children and young people to participate in evaluation activities once these ethical considerations have been carefully considered and navigated[4] – as well as the broader benefits to society of including their voices.

What we do in the planning phase

When we engage with children and young people in our work, we do so with purpose and care. This means we work to build mutual trust and accountability into our processes and approach from the outset, and take a youth-centred and strengths-based approach. To do this we:

  • Consider the structure and governance of the project to ensure we are supporting young people’s participation and contribution in meaningful ways. This may involve working in a youth reference or advisory group.
  • In our recruitment and data collection use language, information and images that are inclusive, strengths based and which support comprehension for a diversity of young people. This may include providing images that are age and developmental appropriateness.
  • We develop trust by creating a comfortable environment, introducing ourselves in a warm and friendly manner, we actively listen and demonstrate this, we make sure we are non-judgmental and we allow the children and young people to have some control over the interview.
  • Consider the physical space in which engagements will be conducted (both face to face and online – providing a participant with guidance on how to select an appropriate space for the type of conversation we’ll have and who should be there/not be there.)
  • Provide ongoing opportunities for young people to hear about progress of the study or evaluation, to voice their ideas and concerns, and share the findings of the evaluation with them.

Getting strong engagement

Through our extensive experience engaging with children and young people, we know there are often barriers to getting strong engagement from children and young people. Below are a few key things we’ve found work well to support recruitment.

  • We have found developing strong relationships with program staff through regular engagement across sites, and during their own interviews (often part of the evaluation), has helped to engage the young people in more of a ‘warm’ handover process. Often the young people appear to trust the evaluation team more when referred by the staff member of the program they are working with. We also work with the program/ school staff to gain insights into the children ahead of time to prepare accordingly.
  • Having an ongoing and more fluid timeline for interviews with young people, so young people can participate when they are ready.
  • Offering as much choice as possible to young people about the way they engage.
  • Young people often have different preferences in methods and modes of communication to engage. We have found many young people much prefer to text us when thinking about being involved in an interview or focus group, and when arranging the best time to speak. We have received much better engagement through text, rather than calls or emails. We have also found that often young people like to arrange interviews without much notice or on the spot, which requires flexibility on the part of the evaluation team.

Gaining consent

Getting the consent of children and young people often requires gaining the assent of the child as well as the consent of the parent, to address child safety. We’ve used various methods including videos with visual explanations of the concepts involved in consenting to participate in research (which children watch with their carer or parent), and verbal storytelling approaches.

Approaches to data collection

Our data collection approach, whether through interviews, focus groups or surveys is strengths-based and trauma informed. In our language and framing, we recognise the abilities, knowledge, capacities and resilience of individuals. We also generally develop methods and guides specific to the age and developmental capabilities of the children and young people. Part of this is also about taking a more literal and deliberate approach to our engagement, and being realistic about what a child or young person is able to provide.

We also make sure to offer as much choice and control as we can to children and young people engaging in evaluation, so that the experience can be accessible, inclusive, meaningful and, hopefully, empowering. Below are some of the ways we do this.

  • Offering choice about who conducts the interview (our team includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from the LGBTQIA+ community, people with lived experience, people from CALD communities, neurodiverse people and a range of ages and genders).
  • Offering choice about the format of the interview (online, telephone or face to face)
  • Providing our own pronouns and asking participants’ pronouns.
  • Asking people if they have any additional requirements or needs, for example, having cameras turned off on videoconferencing, not wearing perfume in face to face interviews
  • Sending people the interview questions ahead of time and giving them the opportunity to opt out of questions ahead of time or during the interviews.
  • Offering people the chance to bring a support person.
  • Structuring questions in a logical way, and being prepared with more prompts than we usually would.
  • Sending participants a photo of the person who will be interviewing them and a brief introduction before the interview, to help to establish a sense of safety in knowing exactly who to expect.
  • Where appropriate, we may use creative or arts-based approaches that don’t rely so heavily on speaking or writing.

Approaches to reporting

In our reporting, we use language and images which are inclusive and strengths based. We take care with our data visualisation to consider how its presentation affects how it will be read – taking care to avoid datavis presentations into which deficits can erroneously be read for a particular group. Where there are multiple stakeholder groups consulted – not only children and young people – we take care to provide as much weight to the voices and experiences of children and young people as other stakeholders and datasets.

In essence, a thoughtful, ethical, and inclusive approach takes care to prioritise children and young people’s voices, respect their autonomy, and acknowledge their expertise in their own lives. By navigating through these considerations with care and flexibility, we ensure that evaluation processes are not only meaningful and empowering but also that the findings are truly reflective of the diverse perspectives and experiences of children and young people.

[1] National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research 2007, p.65

[2] Involving children in evaluation, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Goldsworth, 2023.

[3] Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People, 2019.

[4] Victorian Government, 2022; Involving children in evaluation, Goldsworth, 2023

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