Sensitive topics in social research involving children

Mary Ann Powell, Morag McArthur, Jenny Chalmers, Anne Graham, Tim Moore, Merle Spriggs, Stephanie Taplin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While there is broad consensus that involving children in research is critically important for understanding their lives, there is considerable caution around their participation in social research on ‘sensitive’ issues. Such caution is further amplified by a lack of agreement about what constitutes a ‘sensitive topic’. This article draws on data from interviews with a range of Australian stakeholders, including children, parents, researchers, ethics committee members, government and non-government organisation representatives, and other decision-makers, specifically related to the question of ‘what is a sensitive topic?’. While participants identified a range of sensitive topics, findings point to sensitivities being closely linked with the contexts of children’s lives and experiences. This requires researchers to approach research in ways that reflect more nuanced understandings of these sensitivities, help address potential concerns and facilitate the development of research relationships that promote ethical conduct of research with children.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-660
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Social Research Methodology
Issue number6
Early online date25 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2018


  • social research
  • children
  • ethical practice
  • sensitive topic

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