Working with children and young people

It is the responsibility of investigators to ensure that (i) they are aware of any legislation which could affect their research with children and/or young people and (ii) that all of those involved in their research are aware of these guidelines.

These guidelines are intended to apply to any research directly involving people under the age of 18, whether undertaken independently or in conjunction with a parent, guardian or other responsible adult:

  • protect the rights of children and young people.
  • reassure parents, guardians and other responsible adults that the University encourages staff to observe best practice and that research is designed to protect the interests of the children involved.
  • protect investigators and enable them to meet their legal and ethical requirements.

1. Making Initial Contact

Investigators should not normally contact children or parents directly. Wherever possible, contact should be made via a third party (eg head-teacher).

2. Providing Details of the Investigation

2.1 Investigators should ensure that both children/young people and their parents/guardians are fully briefed as to what is involved in the research, including details of how and when data collected during the study will be used. Investigators should ensure that all instructions are clear and easy to understand and that an opportunity to ask questions is provided.

2.2 It is particularly important to ensure that children have fully understood what is expected of them. Investigators should ensure that they use language appropriate to the age group of their participants and issue clear, easy-to-understand instructions.

2.3 If very young children are participating in a study, investigators should consider whether or not written information is appropriate at all. It may be better to use pictures or meet with the children to discuss what is expected of them and demonstrate the techniques to be used (please refer to the sections on Chaperoning and CRB Disclosure below). 

3.Obtaining Consent and Participants' Right to Withdraw

3.1 Consent from a parent, guardian or responsible adult should be obtained for all studies (including demonstration of procedures and techniques) involving people under the age of 18. Some Professional Bodies and Learned Societies differ in the age limit applied to the age for obtaining consent. You are advised to check for any variation within your discipline.

3.2 Where research is conducted with the consent of the school, investigators are also advised to seek consent from parents, guardians, or other responsible adults.

3.3 Investigators should also give children/young people the opportunity to indicate their willingness to participate in a study. This will not be taken as evidence of consent, as legally, this must come from a responsible adult, but is regarded as good practice in studies involving children/young people. It is recommended that researcher ask children/young people to sign a "Willingness to Participate" form

3.4 Parents, guardians and/or other responsible adults should be given sufficient and appropriate written information to allow them to provide informed consent. Precise details of the investigation should be provided wherever possible. If providing such information could interfere with the validity of the study, advice should be sought from the the appropriate Ethics Committee.

3.5 Consent to observe/record participants should be sought from parents, guardians and/or other responsible adults at the recruitment stage. Further informed consent should be sought for the subsequent release or use of recorded material, including archiving of data if details were not provided in the original statement of consent. 

3.6 Children and their parents, guardians or other responsible adults should be made aware that they are not obliged to take part in, or complete, the study against their will. All parties should understand that they are free to withdraw at any point during the study without giving a reason for doing so.

Chaperoning of Participants

4.1 Chaperoning arrangements should seek to ensure that an investigator or other chaperone of the same sex as the participant is always present. Where sensitive issues, such as the physical assessment of maturity will form part of the study, procedures should be explained by an investigator of the same sex as the participant.

4.2 Wherever possible, investigators should avoid situations where they will be alone with a child participant. In all cases where investigators will have unsupervised access to children, they must follow the University's CRB Disclosure Procedures (see 5. below).

5. Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks (previously CRB checks)

5.1 There are guidelines to identify situations in which it is necessary to check an individual's criminal record through DBS checks. In terms of research involving children/young people, it is likely that the following scenarios will require a DBS check to be undertaken:

  • Investigators with unsupervised access to child participants (ie if an investigator is likely to be alone in a room with one or more children/young people).
  • Taking physical measurements from child participants.
  • Requirement for child participants to remove any clothing.
  • Recording child participants on video.
  • Testing of new equipment.
  • If requested by the sponsor of the research.

5.2 Investigators are warned that arranging DBS checks is a lengthy process which needs to be initiated well in advance of the commencement of a research project. For more information visit the DBS Checks website  

6. Subject Matter

6.1 When working with children and young people, extreme care should be exercised to ensure that subject matters/procedures which may be upsetting or frightening are avoided wherever possible. Research must not appear to encourage illegal behaviour such as underage drinking or smoking. If the research involves testing a product/service, special care should be taken to check:

  1. The product is safe to consume or handle.
  2. The participant does not suffer from any relevant allergy.
  3. That ethnicity, religion or culture is not compromised by asking the participant to test the product.
  4. That the participant is not asked to test a product/service which they are not legally old enough to use.

6.2 When devising questionnaires, care should be taken to ensure that the language used and the nature of the subject matter are pitched at an appropriate level for the participants.

7. Research conducted in schools
Where research is to be conducted in Schools, researchers are advised to consult the BERA set of ethical guidelines for educational researchers.

8. Further Information

The above is not intended to be an exhaustive list of considerations when planning research involving children or young people. However, it is hoped that these guidelines will encourage researchers to adopt best practice and familiarise themselves with the relevant legislation.

The following websites may also be of interest:


Protection of Children Act 1999


The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health


British Psychological Society


National Council of Voluntary Childcare Organisations


DoH Research Governance Framework


Criminal Records Bureau (CRB)


Market Research Society Code of Conduct