“What we think about what adults think”: Involving children in clinical research

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Adult research ethics committees are often asked to make decisions about research projects that involve children and young people, but not enough is known about young people’s views of research ethics.  The Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth (CIRCY) has been working with the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, the University of Nottingham and the Institute of Education, London, on a project with the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.  Our aim was to learn from young people about research ethics when children are involved in clinical research. We worked with young people in three schools/colleges, and with a film maker, Vivianne Howard from Helter Skelter Media.  In this blog Natasha Wilcock, Rosie Bradford and Elis Richardson, three young people from a sixth form college in Brighton, write about their experience of taking part in the project.

What it was like to take part in the consultation, why we were there and what the researchers can learn from us.

Recently seven students from Varndean College, Brighton (along with others from local primary and secondary schools) took part in a consultation regarding the involvement of children in clinical research. This was for the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in collaboration with their colleagues from the Universities of London, Nottingham and Sussex. During the workshop we discussed our opinions on a proposed treatment for children with severe asthma and about how to conduct research involving children and young people.

The aim of this project was clear: to find out “What we think about what adults think”. It made sense therefore when the researchers came to hear our opinions! But in so many areas our opinions are just inferred from adults. So as clear differences arose between our views and those of the adult research ethics committee, it is obvious that young people’s views should be sourced directly and entirely respected. Involvement in a clinical trial can truly change a child’s life, it may affect the family, but it is the child who will live will the consequences, therefore their opinion should be highly valued.

After watching the final film of the workshops we were surprised to see general agreement across the board. Especially regarding possible incentives I found it remarkable that across all the ages there was a clear consensus- participation in the trial should come only from the “goodness of your own heart” not for the suggested measly £20 Amazon voucher (personally I wouldn’t be persuaded to do anything for a few second hand books). But the fact that the researchers included this suggests they thought we could be persuaded by money. The film showed that young people’s motives are more altruistic than adult’s. Maybe we are guided by purer morals, so shouldn’t we be listened to more?

The overwhelming recommendation from the video was for all clinical trials involving children to really involve them in a personal way. Researchers must realise that with children and young people there is no “one size fits all” solution. Children, young people and their families are so diverse that there is no way all of their experiences could be appropriate without tailoring aspects of the trial to their personal needs. For example, having a personal conversation with a doctor with the possibility to ask questions instead of just reading a blanket information sheet would ensure assent and consent are truly informed. You must give information to young people and their parents in different ways, everyone knows teenagers and their parents don’t always see eye to eye (putting it mildly) so how could you treat them both in the same way?

The task of ensuring that children’s involvement in clinical research is an interesting yet complex one. But if adult researchers can understand their limitations, knowing that children and young people have strong opinions that we deserve to have heard, and then together we can use our relative expertise and insight for the benefit of children and maybe even adults too.

-Natasha Wilcock, Rosie Bradford, Elis Richardson

More information about the project, including the two films from the workshops, is available from the Nuffield website. Alternatively you can download the final report “What we think about what adults think”: Young people’s perspectives on ethics review of clinical research with children.

Theatre and creative practices for working with children and young people

In the last of our MACYS series post we turn to the experience of current students. As part of our MACYS enrichment programme each year we visit a number of organisations that work with children and young people. You can read about previous visits here. We also invite professionals from these organisations to contribute to our teaching and today we are welcoming back Rob Watt (National Theatre) and Mark Londesborough (Tricycle Theatre) who are contributing to our Researching Childhood and Youth module which we run in collaboration with our ESRC accredited Doctoral Training Centre. Students will be introduced to theatre as a research methodology and if last year’s event was anything to go by they are in for a real treat. In the meantime, our MACYS students went up to London earlier this term to visit Rob and his colleague Jackie Tait, at the National Theatre to hear about their learning programmes. Below Kate Jenkinson, one of our current students, writes about what impressed her about the National Theatre’s work with children and young people and how this resonated with her learning on MACYS.

Earlier this term a small group of MACYS students were lucky enough to visit the National Theatre in London to learn about the theatre’s education programmes for children and young people.

Rob and Jackie who form part of the team that delivers child and youth programmes, explained the central role that education and skills transfer will have in the future of the National Theatre.

The National Theatre has a number of different initiatives that allow children and young people of all ages to experience the process of making theatre. This includes writing, performing, directing, stage design, costume making, lighting or any one of the myriad of different skills required to stage a theatre performance.

It was particularly interesting to hear about Jackie’s experiences of organising the Early Years Programme because of the process of experimentation that the programme underwent during its development. It is the ethos of the National Theatre to widen the experience of ‘theatre’ to as many people as possible.

With this in mind, the Early Years Team held a series of theatre workshops for pre-school children and their carers in the community. The first was with a group of young parents, the second with a dad’s only group and the third, and most successful, involved grandparents. Each workshop produced a performance using movement, music and storytelling. Jackie offered some useful advice for anyone wishing to design a theatre-based project for children. She suggests using smaller models in order to test how successfully specific elements work and up-scaling when you are sure an idea works.

Funding for the programmes is obviously a major concern. Despite receiving funding from the Arts Council, the educational projects rely on the team’s ability to attract additional funding in the form of private sponsorship. Rob spoke about having to measure educational outcomes in order to satisfy sponsorship requirements. This approach might be seen to challenge the idea of theatre as entertainment for its own sake.

However, the introduction of independent programme evaluators has proven to be very positive and has made the process of approaching funders a lot easier. The theatre is in the process of linking a new production for young people with the National Curriculum in order to offer schools a fun way to inspire learning through a series of theatre-based workshops. This programme is offered in addition to a number of well-established programmes which encourage children up and down the country to get involved in creating theatre.

It was very striking how accessible the theatre was for children, young people and young adults. There are a variety of different programmes that cater for all ages from preschool to young adults. Young people can access theatre or writing workshops, use theatre resources and receive substantially discounted tickets for performances. It is clear that children and young people are valued and their involvement in the process of making theatre is encouraged at many levels.

I also found it really interesting to hear about some of the challenges that Jackie, Rob and her colleagues had faced and how these challenges resonated with our experiences as student learning about creative practices with children and young people on MACYS.

As part of our coursework last term we worked in small groups to devise an arts-based programme for young people. I found that the team at the National Theatre had to struggle with the same dilemma that we were faced with. Whilst designing the programme, we had felt the pressure to respond to ‘need’ and produce defined outcomes in order to receive funding. This way of working sits uncomfortably beside the notion that children and young people are citizens in their own right and entitled to a share of society’s resources without constant justification.

I was also impressed with how children and young people were very much involved in the conception of the performances even from a young age, and in ways that encouraged their full participation.

The theatre appears to be responding more to younger children than ever before and they have had several recent, in-house productions aimed at young audiences. There is also a belief that all expressions of theatre are important to children’s social development and emotional well-being. In addition to training its own programme facilitators, the theatre works alongside nursery nurses and youth workers to further develop their practice.

In terms of youth programmes, there appears to be a genuine commitment to supporting any young person who wants to become involved in theatre. Unlike many organisations, resources do not become inaccessible when a young person turns 18. The theatre recognises its vital role in encouraging creativity and young people can access subsidised programmes up until the age of 24.

Many of these initiatives resonate well with some of our learning on MACYS about children and young people’s citizenship and participation rights, as well as children and young people’s experiences of growing up in contemporary societies and how these experiences could be enriched by the state, communities and professionals.

Letters from Tanzania

Last week MACYS alumna Camilla Jones contributed to our blog series explaining how MACYS had informed her practice with children. This week, MACYS alumnus Rogasian Massue tells us about his work and studying on MACYS. Rogasian joined the MACYS programme in 2011 as a full-time student. Rogasian is an experienced practitioner from Tanzania having worked at the Amani Children’s Home in Moshi for a number of years. Below, in the form of a letter, he shares his experiences of working with street children in Moshi and reflects on the contribution that the MACYS programme made to his professional development.

Dear Melissa,

I hope this email finds you ok. My apology for not having responded to your email sooner. It was nothing more than being caught up with lots of urgent things that landed on my desk over the last couple of days.

I am excited to hear from you again after nearly one plus years since I last got in touch with Rachel Burr. It is even more excitingto learn that you are now taking lead as a convenor of MACYS and that we will get to hear about Sussex stories from the blog.

I am still in Moshi working for Amani Children’s home and in the same capacity as a programme coordinator.

Amani Children’s Home is growing fast; since last year we have had new big projects and new staffing. On the other hand, we have been striving to improve our work practices so that we can give better services to the children we support. More and more children are enjoying our services and about 250 boys and girls in school programmes, from preschool to University level.

I was excited to come back to Amani after one year of study at Sussex. The MACYS programme made a difference in my life that will have long lasting impact on myself and the children I work with here at Amani. Notwithstanding some challenges I face in addressing some behaviour problems of some of the children I work with, there is a reward in every little step I make towards helping the children getting out of some of the problematic conditions they were in before when they lived on the streets.

The work I do here is overwhelming, due in no small part to the changes I see happening in the children I am in contact with. Children often come to us labelled with very serious behaviour problems that makes people think that the child has an “unmanageable childhood” and personality. Over time and working closely with these children talented, skilled and future-focused children emerge.

My own research has now confirmed that with patience, shared experience and relevant skills a lost childhood could possibly be regained, thus opening a new chapter of life to a child. This is where I see the MACYS programme serving as a necessary platform for young and novice professionals to come together, share experiences and find some possible consensus towards supporting children who live in different cultures and conditions.


Celebrating World Social Work Day 2014

The MA in Childhood and Youth Studies at Sussex sits in the Department of Social Work and Social Care, and draws on key social work concerns such as the promotion of social change and social justice and creative ways of working with children and young people.  In celebration of World Social Work Day (March 18) we are running a week long blog series about Social Work at Sussex and beyond which you can catch up on hereIn the meantime, and in a continuation of our MACYS blog series we hear below from alumna Camilla Jones  who joined the programme in its first year as a full-time student with an undergraduate degree in English Literature and five years experience working with children and child protection systems in the humanitarian sector. Below Camilla reflects on what brought her to the MACYS programme and Sussex, as well as where she finds herself now professionally.

Soon after my undergraduate degree I started work in Save the Children’s humanitarian team in London, being deployed to Kenya and Bangladesh during emergencies. I then specialised in child protection, working in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, and finally as Child Protection Advisor in Kenya. After an amazing, and at times exhausting, 5 years of work MACYS was a chance to reflect on all that I had learnt and experienced, and a chance to explore my interests further.

I was drawn to MACYS for its multi-disciplinary nature: it combines social work, law, education, psychology and anthropology to look at childhood holistically. It is one of the only masters focusing on childhood that is embedded within a Department of Social Work. This diversity of interest and clear link to social work provided me the chance to reflect on my experiences while learning about social work systems in developed countries.

On a course as diverse as MACYS I was able to engage in a plethora of fascinating discourses over the year. In choosing a research topic for my dissertation I knew I wanted to reflect on my own experience and I knew I wanted to look at child protection systems.

In the humanitarian sector, there is increasing recognition that countries and communities with strong child protection systems are better prepared for, and better able to respond to, child protection needs during humanitarian crises. With the encouragement of my tutors, I decided to write a ‘reflective practitioner case study’; reflecting on my own work with Somali refugees in Kenya and combining this with desk review and empirical research with Somalis living in east London. Through this I captured a case study of ‘the interactions between cultural mechanisms for child protection and formal child protection systems’ with the Somali culture.

While writing my dissertation I contributed to a self-learning training on child protection in emergencies for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. After completing MACYS, I spent six months in the Middle East. I first worked with Save the Children in Libya, training staff and government social workers on case management. Then I worked with UNICEF in Jordan, developing procedures for working with unaccompanied and separated Syrian refugee children including establishing alternative care systems.

I have recently finished working for the Case Management Task Force of the Child Protection Working Group, which is led by the International Rescue Committee. I designed a training manual to operationalise Minimum Standard 15: Case Management of the new Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action. This involved conducting a Scoping Study in Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Kenya and Somalia and facilitating trainings in the Middle East and Uganda for a global group of trainers, including government.

In 2014, I returned to Sussex as a guest lecturer on the ‘Childhood in a Global Context: Rights, Protection and Justice’ module. It was a delight to come full circle from student to lecturer and to discuss upcoming dissertation research areas with the current group of students. I’m now drafting academic articles based on my dissertation research along with other child protection in emergencies specialists and my dissertation tutor, Rachel Burr.

And you can read an archived live chat with Rachel Burr about MACYS here

The ‘good sex’ project: Research, teaching and practice

In the third post of our MACYS series colleague Dr Ester McGeeney reflects on the crossroads between research, teaching and practice with children and young people.

When I first started teaching on the MACYS programme at Sussex I was also writing up my PhD – a mixed methods study of young people’s sexual cultures that explores how young people understand and experience ‘good sex’. I was also working as a practitioner, co-facilitating group work programmes for women experiencing domestic violence and working on a one-to-one basis with young people who were using violent behaviours in their intimate and family relationships.

This blog forms part of a series of posts aimed at celebrating MACYS and exploring what is unique and important about the programme that we are delivering. For me, as a researcher, practitioner, informal educator and university lecturer, the programme offers a rich opportunity to bring together research, teaching and practice in a range of creative ways. As I shift back and forth between research and practice, teaching and research, I am able to draw on a wide range of resources and techniques to inform each area of my practice. The case studies that I use in my teaching, for example, are based on the lives of the young people and families that I have worked with as a practitioner and the activities that I ask students to take part in frequently draw on techniques that I have used in sex education sessions or in violence prevention work with young people. And as the students respond and draw on their own experiences of violence or sexuality I am continually learning – about national and cultural difference and about the challenges of creating safe spaces for talking about such sensitive and contested areas of children and young people’s lives in educational spaces.

Since finishing my PhD last summer I have started a one year ESRC funded knowledge exchange project called ‘Good sex?: Building evidence based practice in young people’s sexual health’. This project involves a collaboration between researchers at CIRCY, young people and practitioners at Brook and a documentary film maker. Our aim is to explore creative ways of using research to inform practice, with a focus on developing ‘sex-positive’ strategies for working with young people. So far we have run a workshop with young people, a theatre director and a film maker exploring ways of reanimating my PhD data using film and developed a one day training course for practitioners on working with young people on sexual pleasure. At the moment I am half-way through a new 7 week project based a Brook Brixton where we are exploring ways of working with sensitive interview data on young people’s first sexual experiences. For this new project, I selected all the data excerpts relating to first sex from my PhD data and have given them to the group of young people and film-maker I am working with to identify how and why we might want to use this material to make one or two short films. As we look at the data together I am learning – not just about how to turn ‘research’ into ‘film’, but about young people’s sexual cultures and sexual values. As the group discuss and respond to the data, we talk about sexual morality and inequality and about contested areas such as consent, religion and what counts as ‘bad sex’. The group don’t always agree and I am learning that what it is possible to say in a ‘youth work’ session is not the same as what it is possible to say in a research encounter, or in a short film.

We will be posting the new films that we make if and when they emerge and we decide as group what it is possible to say and to show about first sex on film. For more information about the project you can follow the good sex project blog or watch me talking about the project at a recent CIRCY event, Research for the Real World. And for my current and future students – I am sure you will hear about this project and see excerpts from all the films as I draw on this new material to inform my teaching as well as my research and youth work practice.

Digital childhoods

In a continuation of our MACYS series Professor Rachel Thomson shares an update of her latest research project, and explains how research on childhood and youth carried out at Sussex underpins curriculum development and student learning on the MA in Childhood and Youth Studies.  

What distinguishes Masters level study? At the University Sussex we think it means being up close to the cutting edge of research and playing a part in innovation for practice and policy. That is why we see MACYS (the Masters programme in Childhood and Youth Studies) as working hand in glove with CIRCY, the Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth.

CIRCY is currently working on a number of research themes, including the topic of Digital Youth, and this work informs what and how we teach on MACYS: for example exploring the ways in which the pervasive nature of new technologies transform the fabric of relationships and sociality for children and young people and how new technologies might offer exciting new strategies for documenting and representing their lives.

In a new project called ‘Face 2 Face: Tracing the Real and the Mediated in Children and Young People’s Lives’ we are working with two panels of young people (7-8 year olds and 13-15 year olds) to document the temporal rhythms of everyday life. This has included interviewing them about their ‘favourite things’, asking them to choose and discuss something that represents their past and something that represents their present/future. The method is a fantastic and accessible way of capturing young people’s material world and what ‘growing up’ means from their perspective.  What for example might it mean for an 8-year-old to glimpse the potential of the Internet as a route into teenage hood and independence?

Another method we use is the ‘day-in-a-life’ observation where we document a typical day in young people’s lives using the technologies that are available to them. In a new project called ‘Curating Childhoods’ we hope to archive these fascinating multimedia documents in a new collection that will form part of the unique Mass Observation archive that has a special relationship to the University of Sussex.  These materials will also be used in our teaching and provide resources for MACYS students to engage in secondary analysis for their dissertations.

We think that it is important to research the everyday ways in which the digital revolution is affecting childhood, in order to reveal the agency of young people and to counteract the dominant account of risk and peril that is in the popular media.

In my recent professorial lecture on the topic of digital childhood I reviewed some of the latest research in the field, that confirms that young people are the most intensive users of the Internet and mobile devices, and that access is coming at younger and younger ages.

Yet the picture on risk is complicated. Findings from the EU Kids Online project establish that only a minority report  (12%) distress as a result of what they have encountered online. It makes sense that those who are most vulnerable offline are also vulnerable online, but other groups also appear to have heightened risk including girls who are more likely to become embroiled in cyber-bullying, and technically able, yet socially isolated, young people who may access deeper and darker sites. Risk may be most acute in counties and cultures where there is a significant generation gap with parents unable to understand and support their children’s online worlds.

Our own research and that of others shows that young people are actively working through the challenges of balancing the need for privacy with the appeal of active participation through the creation and sharing of their own content online. This may involve the use of aliases or the creation of animations that do not reveal personal identity in a simple way.

We think that a project such as ours has the capacity to generate peer led materials for young people where they can debate and share strategies for online practice, within a model of digital rights and in contrast to the model of e-safety that Andrew Hope argues has so far dominated the debate.

A film of my lecture can be found online here and we hope to post more about the ‘Curating Childhoods’ project soon.

Watch this space!

Reflecting on MACYS almost three years on…

By Sevasti-Melissa Nolas

At the end of this year we are celebrating our MA Childhood & Youth Studies (MACYS) programme third birthday. A milestone in many ways for a small but dynamic programme like ours, and one we would like to take a moment to reflect on as we move into a new phase of our development.

To this effect, and over the next few weeks, we will be running a series of posts about the programme, what is unique about it and why a postgrad programme in this area is important. As well as providing a reflective space for those of us who have been involved in running and teaching on the programme, the posts are also aimed at anyone thinking about embarking on postgraduate study in childhood and youth studies at Sussex.

As the programme’s incoming convenor, I have just taken up the role from my colleague Rachel Thomson and will have some big shoes to fill indeed, one of the most exciting things about MACYS is the advance training it provides for working with children and young people.

Our programme attracts both seasoned practitioners and those at the beginning of their careers in this field who hold, or who will go on to hold, a range of professional and inter-professional, vocational and activist roles in working directly or supporting work with children and young people. What is most fascinating to me is the diversity of knowledge, experience and practice that comes into what we call ‘working with children and young people’ and which requires, I believe, an interdisciplinary approach to fully appreciate.

Interdisciplinarity is one of the hallmarks of childhood and youth studies, and something we do especially well at Sussex, an institution that was set up on the principles of interdisciplinary scholarship. Experiences of childhood and youth, and our interventions into children and young people’s lives, vary considerably across the globe shaped as they are by local historical and cultural contexts.

By involving colleagues from anthropology, education, law, psychology, and social work in our teaching, and by putting these disciplines into conversation with one another, our students have the opportunity to develop a rich understanding of children and young people’s lived experiences and the situated practices of childhood and youth. Policy and practice, as our students learn early on, are messy affairs requiring the sort of creative theoretical, methodological and practical tools that interdisciplinarity can provide.

In this spirit, I have thoroughly enjoyed developing one of our two core modules, Current Developments in Childhood and Youth Policy and Practice. Working with international and home students this module has explored some of the most pressing issues faced by children and young people today as well as debating policy and practice responses. Over the last three years we’ve had some great discussions about the London riots, about the meaning of ‘good sex’ for young people, the ways in which we often fail to listen to children and ways in which we might better communicate with them, about children and young people’s exclusion from education and creative practices for their inclusion.

As part of the programme, as a way of bring practice alive, we’ve also made visits to the National Theatre and Kids Company to hear from practitioners working with children and young people (you can read about these visits in previous entries). We will continue to broaden our enrichment programme moving forward as the feedback we get from students is very positive and these visits often form lasting impressions.

The other very exciting aspect of MACYS for me is how our teaching is underpinned by cutting-edge research. The MACYS programme draws on the expertise of colleagues members of the university wide Centre for Research and Innovation in Childhood and Youth (CIRCY) directed by Rachel Thomson and Janet Boddy. Over the last two years, since CIRCY was set up, we have been busy with a number of studies and evaluations which speak to policy and practice, and research methodologies and theory development for understanding childhood and youth and supporting children and young people.

Our MACYS post series will give you an opportunity to find out more about our latest research projects, and how those feed into teaching, as well as what current and former MACYS students are involved with now.

A rights based approach to evaluation: an example from Chile

A rights based approach to evaluation: a tool for social change in interventions with children and young people.

Valentina Terra

Three months ago the United Nations Association of Chile (ACHNU in Spanish), published an Evaluation Model under a Human Rights Approach (MEED[1]). ACHNU is a Chilean Non-Governmental Organization focused on the promoting and defending children´s rights. The aim of this particular publication was to encourage organizations working with children and young people to embed human and child’s rights approaches in their work. 


ACHNU has a long history of working with children and young people. Since 1991 it has developed different initiatives and social projects in areas such as child abuse, street children, young offenders and working children among others. I have worked there for the last seven years, specifically in ACHNU’s Research and Evaluation Department. Within this department, my colleague and I (we are both sociologists) have been developing and implementing evaluation processes to support the work of the project teams. We also try to generate knowledge based on their project work, for example through developing research, analyzing cases of study, writing  academic papers, and also using an methodological approach that is widely applied in Latin America, called systematization of experience[2].  

Working in this context we started to realize the need for an evaluation tool that was convergent with both a human rights approach[3] and the particular experiences of social intervention within each project. So, in 2009 my colleague and I created the rough draft of an evaluation toolkit. This was based on the work developed by a civil engineering student with the support and guidance of ACHNU staff.

The following year we collected information in order to refine the dimensions, variables and indicators of the evaluation model. This included a literature review, application of questionnaires and interviews, and workshops with professional teams. To do this we visited each ACHNU project in order to both meet the staff, the children and young people involved, and to get to know the socio-cultural context within which the project was taking place. For instance, we went several times to the street-children project in Recoleta, a commercial area of the city with an active informal economy. Ten practitioners work at this project with professional backgrounds in anthropology, social work, psychology, social pedagogy, etc. They work with young people that live on the banks of Mapocho river, or children who do not live in the street but spend almost the entire day roaming or engaged in the informal economy or/and illegal activities.

This phase of the research was very significant as it enabled us not only to gain a better understanding of the logic underlying each intervention, but also to understand the main difficulties and challenges faced by the professionals in their everyday practice. Then, during 2011 we refined and completed the draft giving way to the Evaluation model itself, with all its components.

In 2012 the model was validated through experts’ assessment, and then we incorporated all the suggested modifications. Thus, after five years of intense and collective work we finally produced the final version of the MEED. Here are some of its main features, contributions and challenges.

Main features:

The MEED aims to foster and incorporate  human rights approaches in work with children and young people in the following ways: i) evaluating the implementation of human rights approaches in social interventions addressed to children and young people; ii) supporting professional teams as the intervention develops.

This model promotes a comprehensive perspective on evaluation as it:

  • Incorporates the views of different stakeholders: professional teams, children and young people, families, and representatives of institutions and the community.
  • Combines quantitative and qualitative methodology, methods and techniques.
  • Understands evaluation as an inseparable part of the intervention and planning process.
  • Conceives evaluation both as a collective learning process and a space for reflecting on social action rather than as a mechanism of social control.
  • Acknowledges and values the work developed by practitioners.

In addition, the MEED provides a toolkit ready and easy to use due to its flexibility, adaptability and relevancy to work with children and young people. It also includes a methodological guide aimed at facilitating its implementation. This guide explains each of step of the evaluation, and makes recommendations to professional teams and managers.

Main components:

a) Conceptual framework. The MEED is based on the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child; the theory of change[4]; the approach “Evaluar para la transformación” (evaluation for transformation) developed by three Argentinian sociologists[5], and a social intervention perspective promoted by the Chilean social worker, Teresa Matus, emphasizing subjectivity, socio-cultural context, positive language, and generation of knowledge.

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b) Matrix of evaluation under a human rights approach. The model is grounded in a human rights approach. The matrix of evaluation is divided into three dimensions: Social intervention, Influence in public policy, and Knowledge generation. Each of these dimensions comprises sub-dimensions (as shown in the scheme below), and each sub-dimension comprises variables, indicators and evaluative questions.  

c) Instruments are both quantitative and qualitative, including questionnaires and comparison guidelines, evaluation workshops with professional teams, and group games with children and young people. For instance, some workshops with teams consist of a board game, in which each professional is represented as a game piece. There are also several cards containing general questions or real-life situations related to particular dimensions of the project, such as: which strategies have been more effective to promote children and young people participation in the project’s activities? What are the main obstacles of children and young people participation and how have you faced them? Each professional has to choose a card, answer the question and then the rest of the group can give their opinions. In order to make the activity  more fun, we added some ‘joker cards’ containing a different task such as telling a joke, creating a poem or, choosing the soundtrack of the project, etc.   

d) Methodological phases. Each evaluative moment (base-line, process and outcomes) involves the following eight phases: field-work: the use and implementation of instruments; analysis of information; preliminary evaluative report; the “return” of the preliminary report; final evaluative report; the presentation and sharing of the main evaluation’s outcomes; analysis of recommendations; and decision making.

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Contributions and challenges

Social evaluation has become increasingly significant within organizational management. It is a methodological tool that not only facilitates the decision-making process, but also promotes generation of knowledge and learning. These features encourage the development of more intelligent, responsible and effective organizations. In addition, evaluation is a key element in enhancing social intervention and improving public policies.

The MEED can make an important contribution in this direction. It can be used both to support the management and practice of organizations that work with children and young people. Firstly, it can help to consolidate an institutional evaluative culture within these organizations. Secondly, the model would allow for compiling information on the achievement level of the goals proposed, and analyzing information transversally and longitudinally. Thirdly, it would provide recommendations leading to the embodiment of the human rights approach in interventions aimed at children and young people.

In addition, we hope that this model will put important issues on the agenda in order to contribute to enforcing children’s rights and improving public policies in this area. Its utilization will thus help not only to enhance transparency and accountability within civil society, but also to build more equitable societies that are more respectful of children and young people as subjects of rights.

At the moment, and after five years of work, we can say that even though the model is finished, our journey is just beginning; or more exactly we are about embarking on a new stage of this journey: its implementation. We will now see how this model is going to work in the context of the many different ACHNU’s projects.

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One of the main challenges is to respect and put into practice the participatory nature of the MEED, mainly regarding children and young people’s participation: to what extent can the MEED consider both the diversity and different realities of children’s lives? How can we effectively and genuinely ensure their involvement? Which strategies can we develop in order to deepen their participation in the whole evaluative process?

Another significant challenge relates to the capacity of implementing this model in a reflexive way, avoiding routinisation of practices. This requires a constant exercise of Meta evaluation to determine the extent to which the MEED is able to assess the incorporation of the human rights approach in our interventions and institutions? Are the variables, indicators and instruments relevant? Are the recommendations arising from the evaluation useful? Have they led to any changes?

Finally, we will have to draw up a work agenda in order to not only disseminate this model, but also to encourage its use in other organizations working with children and young people. Therefore, we will have to address new tasks, inquiries and challenges. Some are known; others cannot be predicted, and will arise along the way. We look forward to continuing our journey and encouraging others to join us on our way.

For more information about the MEED evaluation tool please contact Valentina Terra: v.terra@sussex.ac.uk

[1] MEED = Modelo de Evaluación con Enfoque de Derechos – Evaluation Model under a Human Rights Approach 

[2]. In this link you can find some useful definitions and resources of this methodology:


[4] In this link you can find different resources: http://www.theoryofchange.org/


“If jobs mean maturity, not everyone gets to grow up”

On Saito Tamaki, Social Withdrawal—Adolescence Without End, reviewed by Max Fox in The New Inquiry, July 11, 2013

A blog by Pam Thurschwell

 This is the most gripping article I’ve read in a long time:


In Japan in the early 1990s, a young psychiatrist named Saitō Tamaki began seeing patients with a cluster of strange symptoms. Actually, he barely saw them at all; more often than not, other family members would approach him about a brother or a son who was afflicted with an unfamiliar state. Mostly men on the threshold of adulthood, they were retreating to their rooms, shrinking from all social contact or communication, and closing off into themselves, often for periods of a year or more. Not wanting to kill themselves but unable to live in society, these youths folded inward in an attempt to fit themselves away. Saitō began calling them hikikomori sainen, “withdrawn young men,” and in 1998 published a book with his findings called Shakaiteki hikikomori—Owaranai Shishunki, or Social Withdrawal—Adolescence Without End.

I’m currently writing a book about adolescence in the 20th century, called Out of Time, about the alternatively creative and desperate desire of adolescents to exit their own time, violently or imaginatively, via for instance, death, time travel, or dressing up like someone from the 1950s. I’m sure that the reactions I just listed should not be collapsed together, but reading this article about this relatively recent phenomenon of hikikomori in Japan, I felt myself recognising something that seems to connect a number of ideas I’m interested in—adolescence as a category that is becoming more vexed, extended indefinitely, or indeed, “folded inward.”  I’m trained in literature and a little afraid of making links that may seem tenuous and unfounded to my colleagues in psychology and the social sciences, but this article provokes huge questions for me. How do we talk about social phenomena such as hikikomori or other cultural equivalents—the growing discourse of “waiting” or “a lost generation” around youth unemployment, a generation for whom, current economic conditions provide no path to growing up? Can we pathologize individuals (who lock themselves up in their parents’ kitchen) if the problem is a social or economic structure that is collapsing? And not just a social structure, but perhaps the whole way we conceive of age, aging, progressing from one stage of life to another?  What discourses can we use to make sense of data like this? It used to be, as the article recounts, adolescence was a threshold to something we could identify as adulthood; what happens when the (class-distinctive, certainly) markers of adulthood (a permanent job, a more or less steady relationship or series of them, the ability to own or rent property) become less and less viable? Is the hikikomori that Tamaki identifies a contemporary disease, or is the “disease” capitalism? How might Tamaki’s observations in Japan relate to the rapid growth of the diagnosis of autism spectrum in the West?  

“Saitō ventured a count: There were 1 million people in a state of withdrawal or hikikomori, about one percent of the Japanese population. Eighty percent of them were men; 90 percent were over 18. “Social withdrawal is not some sort of ‘fad’ that will just fade away,” Saitō wrote. It is “a symptom, not the name of an illness,” and “there has been no sign that the number of cases will decrease.””

Is it that adolescence is disappearing (there is something intensely infantile, even womblike, in that image of the  retreat to the parental kitchen)? Or is it that what is disappearing is what we used to call adulthood?.

I’d love to hear what other people (with more relevant expertise) think about this.





The Girls’ Panel Discussion Event: Understanding and re-engaging disaffected youths

The Girls’ Panel Discussion Event: Understanding and re-engaging disaffected youths

A report by Fidelma Hanrahan

On Wednesday 20th March 2013 Fidelma Hanrahan and Professor Robin Banerjee from the Children’s Relationships, Emotions, and Social Skills (CRESS) Lab at the School of Psychology, together with the Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth (CIRCY), hosted an evening event to follow-up the inspirational performance of ‘The Girls’ – a semi-autobiographical theatre production by THE PROJECT theatre company involving four school-excluded young people turned actors – at Brighton Dome Studio Theatre in December 2012 (For more on ‘The Girls’ and a BBC interview with the cast, and a mention of our research, click here).

The event – entitled ‘The Girls’ Panel Discussion Event: Understanding and re-engaging disaffected youths – aimed to include as many perspectives as possible in order to allow for an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas and knowledge on the topics of school disaffection and marginalisation, emotional health in young people, the creative arts as a context for working with young people, and the role of schools and the community in re-engaging young people. In order to achieve this, academics and students from the University across several schools, as well as local practitioners who work with young people including educational psychologists, teachers from PRUs and mainstream schools, YOT practitioners and social workers were invited. There was a very healthy turnout from both the University and practitioners (45-50 people) which allowed for debate, networking and a sense of community also.

The evening began with a warm opening address by Professor Michael Farthing, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sussex. Thereafter followed presentations by Professor Banerjee and Fidelma Hanrahan which centred on the factors underpinning school disaffection and how school and the creative arts can re-engage young people. These talks made reference to current research work being undertaken in the CRESS Lab, including theory and interviews with young people in PRUs and those involved in THE PROJECT’s theatre work. Professor Rachel Thomson, Director of CIRCY, followed these presentations with an illuminating talk on inclusion/exclusion and the role of schooling.

During the break which followed, attendees were asked to write questions for the panellists to discuss after the break. We got an incredible response to this request, which resulted in some beautiful acorn bunting, and provided us with a rich source of really very thought-provoking questions for our panel. We have included the questions submitted by attendees at the end of this post.


To reflect multiple perspectives, our panellists were: Prof Sally-Jane Norman, Dr Sevasti-Melissa Nolas (Lecturer in Social Work, ESW); Ray Harrison Graham (Director of THE PROGECT theatre company) Giles Stogdon (Producer of THE PROJECT), Bex Fidler (Learning Access and Participation Manager at Brighton Dome), Jo Bates (social worker with links to Brighton Dome’s outreach work) and Tracey Williams (Senior Educational Psychologist in Brighton and Hove with responsibility for Older Children and Young People).


The panel discussion proper began after the break. This began with an introduction given by each of our seven panellists – but more than simply introductions, these openings from our panellists provided an in-depth account of their backgrounds and role, as well as revealing so much passion and belief in their work with young people. From these introductions we gained a very strong sense of the diverse roles of the panellists, whilst also highlighting the shared vision and hopes for young people that they also held.

The questions written and submitted by attendees provided a rich source of discussion and debate for panellists and non-panellists alike. So many people contributed their thoughts and experiences to this discussion, and we heard from many practitioners about their own experiences of working with marginalised or disengaged young people. These discussions built into some really very powerful thoughts about how theatre, and the creative arts more generally, can enrich young people’s lives and lead to a feelings of positive self-worth, agency and a greater chance of a positive future.

Too soon, it was time to end the evening’s event and wrap up the discussion, leaving many of us with the sense that the debate and discussion could have continued fruitfully for much longer still. Indeed, it was clear from feedback collected that the whole event was felt to have been a great opportunity to network, discuss, learn and share ideas both across and within disciplines and roles. What also came out very strongly from the event and feedback is the desire among attendees for a continued link between researchers and practitioners to develop, perhaps via regular events in which research work with a focus on children and young people could be disseminated and a practitioners’ forum created… an exciting idea that we are keen to explore, so watch this space!


Questions from the audience

1. Please explain more about the negotiations between the actors and the director during the script creation process.

2. Creative interventions – The importance of story and the whole life story.

3. How can you work with a tired staff group who are concerned with OFSTED? Convincing them and new ways of understanding?

4. What is the support plan for the participants/actors post project?

5. Could acting the part of ‘another’ be as valuable, as cathartic? Psycho-drama

6. Can any cultural experience enable YP to see themselves in a different way and/or if drama/performance offers something extra?

7. Does the need to redress the balance run the risk of allowing those with SEN etc. some opportunities not available to mainstream?

8. What are the actors doing now?

9. Doesn’t censoring the language in schools contribute to censorship of their lives?

10. What qualities are needed to run a drama/creative session?

11. Why is no one here that represents the young people themselves? Were they invited?

12. Why is the play named ‘The Girls’? Has there been any issues with this considering mixed gender of participants?

13. How will sharing life stories from disaffected young people encourage others to reengage?

14. School teachers don’t have time for self-reflection/supervision to think how best to support the disaffected.

15. How do we engage parents?

16. How do you get apathetic students to “care”?

17. In many ways, it seems that these young people are best placed to help others like them compared to professionals who don’t have any actual experience of poor parenting, violence, abuse etc. But it also seems that it will take years of psychotherapy to neutralise their anger. Is it realistic to hope that disaffected young people can be trained to help others?

18. Should more funding be put into supporting schools to meet emotional needs like youth work?

19. Would there be as much/more power in YP watching parents’, teachers’ etc. stories?