Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

59 Implementing Qualitative Research with Children: Reconciling Qualitative Research Methods with the Unique Needs and Contributions of Children and Adolescents

Friday, January 13, 2012: 10:00 AM-11:45 AM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
Cluster: Research Design and Measurement
Lela Rankin Williams, PhD, Arizona State University, Susan Saltzburg, PhD, MSW, Ohio State University, Joan Letendre, PhD, University of Connecticut, Tally Moses, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Lisa Schelbe, MSW, University of Pittsburgh and Amy Chanmugam, PhD, MSW, University of Texas at San Antonio
Research with children and adolescents requires data collection processes that will appeal to these age groups as well as resonate with developmental capacities and preferences for communicating about their subjective life experiences. In contrast to the limitations of quantitative instruments, in-person interviews with youth lend themselves to more open and responsive ways to capture children's valuable perceptions and frames of reference about a topic. Qualitative research allows researchers to interpret and make sense of phenomena in terms of personal meanings, establishing trustworthiness in context-rich ways. Nowhere is this more apparent than in qualitative work with children/youth where the considerations of social contexts, as well as the developmental capacities, are essential elements. However, despite social work's noted contribution and commitment to qualitative inquiry, methodological consideration of the developmental capacities of children and adolescents and of their structural position has been lacking in the social work literature.

Focus group and in-person individual interviews comprise methods of data collection with the inherent potential for engaging youth in ways that recognize developmental needs, and honor individual personalities and unique stories. Essential methodological considerations include: 1) examining the environment as a necessary support for the research as well as a source for engendering trust amongst participants; 2) maximizing the focus group's potential to create a safe space for all youth to express their ideas and concerns; 3) recognizing the dynamic quality of the focus group process in contributing to peer conformity as well as stimulating youth conversation; 4) attending to power differentials and potential barriers between adult interviewers and children/youth participants; 5) distinguishing the fine line between the role of the interviewer from the practitioner (helper); 6) using activities that establish both credibility and familiarity; 7) formulating questions that reflect language and conceptual ideas specific to developmental stage and cohort relevance; 8) sequencing of questions and pacing of interview appropriate to child/youth's narratives; 9) clarifying inconsistencies without creating confusion or intimidation; and 10) attending to ways to probe for more in-depth discussion on sensitive topics with awareness of how this ties to ethical considerations.

This roundtable session will begin a dialogue about these methodological concerns and the varied ways that the researchers have managed the challenges. Presenters will focus particular attention on strategies for engaging and maintaining youth participants from vulnerable populations in the data collection process while attending to youths' developmental capacity and motivation. Based on their research experiences, presenters will offer suggestions for maintaining participants' focus on topic and commitment, while minimizing contagion-influence amongst group members (in focus groups); ways to design and implement qualitative semi-structured interviews with children/youth while addressing critical language barriers that may occur between interviewers and adolescents; and ideas for improving how we frame research questions and interpret responses from youth.

The presenters' goal is to stimulate conversation that will promote recognition of the developmental and contextual considerations involved in conducting qualitative research with children and youth, and the implications of these for methodological options, and ultimately, for social work scholarship.

See more of: Roundtables