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Keywords: children; rights; ethics; research; autonomy; participation
Recent developments in the sociology of childhood and in law have led to increased respect for children's agency and rights, including some claims to autonomous decision-making. This has been reflected to some extent in research practice, including greater recognition of children's ability to give informed consent to participate. However, a concurrent trend towards greater regulation of research raises tensions for researchers working with young people in balancing the need to ensure safe research practice against the importance of enhancing young people's capacity to make decisions and ensuring that their voice is heard. This article draws on the author's recent research with looked after young people in year 11 in examining these issues, arguing that children have a greater capacity to exercise autonomy over whether they should participate in research than they are generally permitted to employ. The wider implications for research in the family law arena are considered. It is suggested that research ethics practice should take greater account of legal principles in this area and that there is a need to develop frameworks of ethical research practice that allow a more sensitive approach to the individual developmental trajectories of children who may wish to participate in social science research.
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