Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

An Ethical Journey: Rights, Relationships and Reflexivity

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

An Ethical Journey: Rights, Relationships and Reflexivity

Article excerpt

The use of early childhood settings as sites for research means that the ethical practices of those who conduct research become available for scrutiny (Aubrey, David, Godfrey & Thompson, 2000). However, everyone involved in these settings has a role in the research process: the children and parents, teachers, managers, gatekeepers, and researchers. Researchers may also have obligations to their institutions, the funding body, or the Ministry of Education. The involvement of so many people in this web of relationships means there is an increased emphasis on ethical practices. In Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand there is continued work on codes of ethics for educators (Hedges, 2001; Kennedy, 2001) and discussion of ethical practices from cultural and philosophical perspectives (Moss, 2001; Smith, 1999). The idea that children will be automatically available as suitable subjects for research is an assumption that has been questioned (Cannella, 2002; Christensen & James 2000; Fasoli, 2003). The journey with my consent form for children included rights, the 'relationship paradigm' (King, Henderson & Stein, 1999, p. 14) and questions about my own position as researcher. The power of the reflexive stance to provoke more questions than answers is evident in this account.

Garbarino discusses the adult orientation or 'position' in relation to the research process and children. He says that useful ethical thinking concerns the questions 'What rights do children have to privacy? To authority? To respect?' (Garbarino, Scott & Faculty of the Erikson Institute, 1992, p. 16). In terms of rights, The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child contains Articles which uphold the right of the child to express views freely (Article 12) and to have freedom of expression (Article 13). The document also upholds the rights of parents to provide direction to children (Article 14) (UNCROC).

My research, about spirituality in early childhood settings, is firmly qualitative, and recognisably a sensitive topic to research (Lee, 1993). Spirituality has proved to be a field that draws strong reactions, and negotiating what, where and how has been a long process. As Coady (2001) points out, there are issues about informed consent, deception, confidentiality and privacy in any research. My decision to invite children to respond to a consent form seemed logical, but reaction to this form for children has proved to be a focus for changes in my own thinking and a place for continuing dialogue with parents and teachers.

It became obvious early in the research process that the ethics procedures are an essential point from which to begin but that rather a lot of information, beyond the official forms themselves, is then shared and extended in conversation with everyone involved in the research. One of the requirements found to be essential and which was discussed constantly in one of the centres was that of 'transparency'. To be transparent is to be 'easily seen through, evident, obvious, easily understood, free from disguise' (The Concise Oxford Dictionary). Arriving at a centre with a bunch of forms is not good enough. Being transparent involved talking, discussing and explaining, and not just to a parent group but to parents individually, especially if they had concerns about the research. Sometimes the line between being transparent and not being respectful of the research became rather fine and questions proliferated. When was something transparent? What if the requirement for transparency then jeopardised the project? When did transparency challenge notions of privacy and confidentiality? In the discussions that ensued from these questions new meanings were shared and relationships strengthened. The wish to conduct research with the best intentions might seem obvious, but tension lies in remaining aware that best intentions do not guarantee an ethical approach.

The negotiation of ethics procedures took place in three different settings, and the data collection included photographs and use of a video camera. …

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