Participatory Research with Looked After Children: Factors which Support Meaningful EngagementParticipatory Research with Looked After Children: Factors which Support Meaningful Engagement

  • Michelle Harwood

Student thesis: Doctor of Educational and Child Psychology


The focus of this thesis was to explore effective ways to increase the participation of looked after children in research and to examine methodological and ethical issues that may arise. The findings are presented in three sections with the first two papers prepared in accordance with the author guidelines of the journals proposed for submission (Appendix 1). The first paper is a systematic review of research involving looked after children in the UK over the last ten years. The purpose was to explore what methodologies have been used and to examine any reflections and evaluations regarding their effectiveness. Some common themes were found regarding looked after children’s involvement in the research process, relationship factors and ethical considerations. However, this review also highlighted variation in the amount of detail offered regarding the reporting of methodology with some offering limited information. Additionally, there was little evaluation of methodology and a prominent finding was that looked after children’s involvement in research tended to be passive. The first paper provided a rationale for the second, calling for research which includes looked after children in the research process as a whole, with methodologies made explicit and evaluated. This second paper then presents a description and evaluation of a participatory research project within an English high school concerning five looked after children’s perspectives on ‘What makes a good school?’, using Appreciative Inquiry (AI). An account of the researcher’s journey is offered, as well as the participants’ evaluation of the process. The paper found a flexible approach including a variety of methods was motivating and engaging for a group of looked after children. AI was also effective in enabling meaningful participation. Additionally, the paper offers a critical reflection of the role of adults and the impact of ethical issues on participatory research. The third paper appraises the role that educational psychology can have in disseminating findings. The dissemination process had two purposes in this project: firstly, promoting the perspectives of looked after children on what makes a good school to influence good practice. Secondly, to encourage further dialogue regarding the research process when involving looked after children to support better more meaningful participation in research.
Date of Award31 Dec 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCaroline Bond (Supervisor) & Catherine Kelly (Supervisor)


  • evaluation
  • appreciative inquiry
  • methods
  • looked after children
  • participation

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