Learning from failure: are practitioner researchers the answer when conducting research on sensitive topics with vulnerable children and young people?

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While the ability, and indeed right, of children to be active participants in the research process has become better understood in recent years, concerns still persist when the research topic is particularly sensitive, or when the participants are vulnerable. This article provides an account of an ultimately unsuccessful research project aimed at exploring the conceptualisations and experiences of loss and bereavement of children in care. The literature relating to the practical, ethical and methodological considerations when conducting research on sensitive topics or with vulnerable children is reviewed and mapped against the author’s experience. Reflecting on the barriers to successful completion of the project the paper then discusses whether, despite well-documented limitations, many of these barriers to conducting sensitive research with vulnerable children may have been overcome by employing a practitioner–researcher approach to the methodology. By providing a rare reflection on a research ‘failure’, the paper is of relevance to students, practitioners and researchers alike.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Social Research Methodology
Early online date5 Feb 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Feb 2018


  • children
  • qualitative research
  • sensitive research
  • bereavement research
  • practitioner research

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