Managing Ethical Studies on Sensitive Issues (MESSI): Involving children in social research


Prof Morag McArthur, Dr Tim Moore, Assoc Prof Stephanie Taplin, in partnership with Prof Anne Graham (Southern Cross University), Dr Merle Spriggs (University of Melbourne) and Dr Jenny Chalmers (University of NSW)

Funding Source:

Australian Research Council Discovery Grant


This project aims to better understand and address the tensions between the protection of children and young people and their participation in social research about sensitive issues. It will do this by exploring how ethics committees, parents, others gatekeepers and children themselves manage and navigate these tensions. It will be conducted between 2015 - 2017.

The study aims to:

  1. Describe the processes through which children's participation in research is determined, asking: what are the ontological (the way children are constructed), epistemological (what children know), methodological, ethical, professional, ideological and practical factors that influence the decisions of HRECs, gatekeepers, parents and children.
  2. Identify the key barriers and enablers to children's participation in research about sensitive issues.
  3. Identify, through the use of scenarios, the factors that influence decision-making including: how gatekeepers assess risk level and the appropriateness of particular research topics and methodologies.
  4. Use the information collected to provide more nuanced and urgently-needed guidance to HRECs and other gatekeepers on how to best identify the risks and benefits of children's participation in research, and guidance to researchers on how to help ensure children's rights and wellbeing are attended to throughout the entire research process.

For more information about the project, contact Prof Morag McArthur.

National MESSI Survey Now Open

This study is currently conducting the national MESSI Survey, to find out what helps children, young people and adults decide to take part in research, and why.

The survey takes 10 minutes and we are asking the following groups to help us:

  • Young people aged 12 - 17
  • Parents of children aged 7 - 14
  • Professionals and other adults responsible for children aged 7 - 14 (such as teachers, youth workers, school principals, and managers in government departments and non-government organisations).

For more information and to participate, please visit the MESSI website.