AIFS releases new guide outlining involving children in program evaluation 
The Sector > Quality > In The Field > AIFS releases new guide outlining involving children in program evaluation 

AIFS releases new guide outlining involving children in program evaluation 

by Freya Lucas

May 19, 2023

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) has released a guide outlining the reasons to involve children in program evaluation along with some practical considerations and approaches to collecting data from children. 


A summary of the guide appears below. The guide is primarily intended for use by child and family support professionals who work directly with children and are involved in undertaking or commissioning an evaluation in their organisation. The content will also be relevant to other professionals working with children, including those in early childhood education and care (ECEC).


When considering the guidance below, ECEC and other professionals should consider the child’s developmental stage and capabilities, noting that children of the same age can vary significantly in their abilities and maturity. Evaluators must take this into account in their planning and in practices such as establishing ethical procedures, choosing evaluation methods and communicating with children.


Reasons to involve children in evaluation


Family support services are increasingly evaluating their programs and practices to better understand how they work and how to improve them. 


For people working with children and/or delivering programs that seek to benefit children, involving children in evaluation with purpose and care can give valuable insights and perspectives which might otherwise be missed. 


“You cannot fully understand how such programs work and/or are experienced without hearing directly from children,” authors note.


“Children also have a right to participate in evaluation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Article 12 of the UNCRC states that children have a right to be listened to when decisions will affect them, and that those views should be taken seriously and be responded to (United Nations, 1989).”


Barriers to involving children in evaluation 


Many evaluation practices which involve children are under-used in child and family services (Knight & Kingston, 2021), with many service providers defaulting to adult-reported data for evaluation. This happens partly because the cost, skills and time needed to develop child-appropriate and effective evaluation techniques and processes can be prohibitive (Kelly, 2017).”


Unconscious and unchallenged beliefs about children, including that they are vulnerable and incapable, can also lead adults to exclude children from participating in evaluation (Clark & Moss, 2011; Lansdown, 2005). 


Ways to involve children in evaluation 


There are more ways to involve children in evaluation than simply collecting data from them about their experiences or views of programs and services. Other ways children can contribute to or be involved in evaluation include:


  • Co-designing or testing consent protocols
  • Testing survey instruments
  • Interpreting data
  • Collaborating on research reports
  • Sharing in the key evaluation results


Key considerations for involving children in evaluation


While there are many good reasons to involve children in evaluation, there is no single approach or tool that you can adopt to do it meaningfully in every situation, the authors note. 


Practitioners can, however, try to ensure they conduct an engaging and inclusive evaluation for children by factoring in these three things:


  • the children’s ages and development
  • the needs of children with additional support requirements
  • ethical considerations for safe and respectful child involvement.


Supporting children with additional needs


Some children may experience more challenges or barriers to participation in evaluation than others. This can be especially true for children with child protection and/or domestic and family violence histories, children with disabilities, children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, authors note.


Some barriers to children’s participation relate to their capacity, interest or confidence to engage with evaluation or research (and the people undertaking them). However, adults can also create barriers to children’s participation by making assumptions about their abilities or best interests; for example, by deciding that they are too vulnerable to participate without first seeking the child’s view (Garcia-Quiroga & Agoglia, 2020).


Evaluators should take steps to establish and practice cultural safety when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and/or culturally and linguistically diverse children. Cultural safety is: the positive recognition and celebration of cultures. It is more than just the absence of racism or discrimination and more than ‘cultural awareness’ and ‘cultural sensitivity’. It empowers people and enables them to contribute and feel safe to be themselves (Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2021, p. 7).


Ethical issues


Evaluation needs to be conducted safely and ethically so that children are not harmed in participating, and so that they can meaningfully contribute. Other key ethical considerations include: 


  • Consent and confidentiality
  • Addressing power imbalances 
  • Payments and incentives. 


Data collection methods 


A number of data collection methods can be used to collect data with children, including: 


  • Surveys
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Art-based methods
  • Mosaic approach.


Communicating evaluation findings


Sharing evaluation findings, as well as any proposed actions that result, with the children who participated is a key part of involving children in evaluation. One option for doing this is to create child-friendly evaluation reports that include visual elements such as art, photographs and handwritten messages. 


Children can also be involved in report writing and dissemination activities, and evaluators can help children to co-produce sections of the final report (e.g. key recommendations) or seek their feedback on early drafts. 


When it comes to dissemination, consider inviting children to co-present the findings at public events or conferences.


A number of further resources and supports are included in the guide, which may be accessed here.

Download The Sector's new App!

ECEC news, jobs, events and more anytime, anywhere.

Download App on Apple App Store Button Download App on Google Play Store Button