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This critical review will examine the study 'Childhood Poverty and Social Exclusion - From a Child's Perspective', by Tess Ridge. The study employs a qualitative, child-centred approach using in-depth interviews with children. Parallel to this, Ridge also uses quantitative method of data analysis, analysing British Household Panel Youth Survey (BHPYS) data. Qualitative methods produce rich, in-depth accounts of actual personal experience, and as Ridge is interested in how children themselves experience poverty, in-depth interviews with children are a well-matched approach. However, it is also known that qualitative methods sometimes lack validity and so Ridge also uses the method of data analysis, which is said to have high validity, alongside her study to enhance the validity of her overall study. The word poverty has many definitions and can be 'measured' on many different scales, however for the purpose of this review we will define poverty as the state of having little or no money and few or no material possessions. The most common method used to define poverty is income-based. A person is considered poor if his or her income level falls below some minimum level necessary to meet basic needs (www.bdbmc.org).
The critical review will first start by looking at studies, and literature already produced in the area of childhood poverty, and look at why Ridge's research was necessary. It will then examine the context of Ridge's study itself, followed by evaluations of the study regarding the sample and methodology used, the reliability, validity and generalisability of the findings, and the ethical issues raised when working with children and young people.
Childhood poverty is an important issue within the UK as an estimated 4 million children - one in three - are currently living in poverty in the UK, one of the highest rates in the industrialised world. This is a shocking figure given the wealth of our nation. Poverty can have a profound impact on the child, their family, and the rest of society. It often sets in motion a deepening spiral of social exclusion, creating problems in education, employment, mental and physical health and social interaction (www.endchildpoverty.org.uk).
Duncan and Brooks-Gunn (1997) summarised the effects of child poverty in terms of achievement. They found that the risk for poor relative to non-poor children is 2 times as high for grade repetition and dropping out of high school, and 1.4 times as high for having a learning disability. For other conditions and outcomes, these risk ratios are: 1.3 times as high for parent-reported emotional or behavioural problems, 3.1 times as high for a teenage out-of-wedlock birth, 6.8 times as high for reported cases of child abuse and neglect, and 2.2 times as high for experiencing violent crime.
Bradshaw and Holmes (1989) compared the clothing stocks of families with an unemployed head with a minimum standard. They found that 60% of children in the sample were below standard on two or more essential items. Klerman (1991) states that in general, illness, disability and premature deaths are more frequent amongst infants, children and adolescents who either live in poor families or live in poverty without family support.
There are many studies that look at the effect of poverty upon children, with many shocking results on how poverty has adverse effects on a child's development. However useful these studies are, we fail to gain insight into a child's actual experiences of poverty, from their own perspective. Ridge found the need to conduct her study in order fill a gap in research. The gap being to provide a child's own perspective on poverty, rather than a parent, teacher or carer's view on the situation.
Ridge's used in-depth interviews with children. The main aim of her study was to gain insight into the lives and experiences of a group of children and young people from low-income families. The study was carried out in 1999, in urban areas of Bristol and Bath, and rural areas of Somerset. The interviews explored children's experiences at school, at home and with their families; and it focused on their economic and material environment, social relationships and their understanding of the impact of poverty on their lives. An unstructured interview was employed, which evolved over the period of the study, bringing in new areas of interest as they were introduced by the children. Interviews were taped and later transcribed. In addition to the interviews with children, interviews with 17 of the children's parents were interviewed (Ridge, T. 2002).
Alongside this qualitative study, Ridge also analysed a cross-section of data from the BHPYS - a survey that utilised child-centred research ethics, and is a unique and important source of data relating to children's leisure activities, health, and their attitudes to family, education and work. Because of the child-centred nature of the collection and generation of the data, it was judged a suitable data set for the purposes of this study. Analysis of the BHPYS data provided an ideal opportunity to explore children's and young people's experiences and perceptions of school life and their relationships with their teachers (Ridge, T. 2002).
Ridge (2002) showed that out of the 40 children interviewed, only 12 of these children received pocket money on a regular basis, and that there was a clear link between absence of pocket money and involvement in work, with nearly half of the sample were either working or had been in work. Nearly half of the children in the study had no access to private transport, and hence were likely to experience restricted mobility due to transport being too expensive - affecting the child's freedom and autonomy. Also, over half the children in the study said that they had been bullied at school for being different i.e. for not having the resources to dress in the 'right' clothes, and to join in social and leisure activities with peers. In relation to family life, half of the children in the study had not been on holiday in recent years and some had never been away on holiday. Overall, nearly three-quarters of the children felt very strongly that their lives had been changed by living on a low income.
The findings of the quantitative study supported and confirmed those of the interviews. Children from low income backgrounds were more likely to be expelled from school, were more concerned about bullying, had problematic relationships with teachers, were more likely to feel unhappy with their schoolwork, and were more likely to leave school at the age 16.
The methods used in this study were child-centred interviews, and data analysis. There are 4 main types of interviews; structured, semi-structured, unstructured, and focus groups. Structured interviews involve the interviewer remaining neutral, with no prompting or improvisation. In a semi-structured interview most of the interview questions are the same for each person interviewed, but additional questions can be asked of individual participants. They involve some probing from the interviewer, and rapport with the interviewee. Unstructured interviews are flexible, involve rapport with the interviewee, and involve active listening by the interviewer. A focus group is also flexibile, but requires the interviews to have the ability to stand back from the discussion so that group dynamics can emerge (adapted from Silverman, D 2006). Ridge chose to use a very flexible, semi-structured approach as she wanted new ides to develop as children brought in new ideas, although she did have a basic structure of areas she wanted to cover during the interview process. After being taped, and subsequently subscribed, the data was analysed using thematic indexing - the themes included those Ridge had initially indentified, and those children had introduced themselves. Also within the methodology of the qualitative study, comparative analysis was used to identify key similarities and differences between age, gender, location and family type of the children.
When using unstructured interviews with children, the relatively free-flow interaction enables the researcher to pick up on important and emotive issues by gentle probing and to discover what matters most to the participant from the topics he raises himself (Greig, A. & Taylor, J. 1999). Some researchers would suggest methods such as observation in order to gain insight into how children experience poverty, however this still leaves the fundamental problem Ridge was trying to diminish - that is, how children experience poverty through another person's perspective, usually a parent or carer. Ridge wanted to understand childhood poverty from a child's perspective, hence, although there are a host of practical and ethical issues concerned with interviewing children, the rich, in-depth data received of actual child experience can be said to outweigh these issues.
The children interviewed were drawn from a random sample provided by the Department of Social Security (now the Department for Work and Pensions). They were all living in families in receipt of Income Support, and had been so for more than 6 months. The sample was divided into two, lone-parent families, and two-parent families. The two-parent families were families where an adult or a child was disabled, rather than using the characteristic of unemployment. This enabled a better match between lone-parent and two-parent families, as both types were likely to experience poverty over a long duration. Children were grouped in accordance to their location, and this sample was then divided into rural and urban children. Interviews were carried out until the required sample size of 40 children was attained.
Of the final sample of 40 children, 20 were from lone-parent familes, and 20 were from two-parent families. In each family type, 10 children were from rural areas, and 10 were from urban areas. The age range of the children was between 10 and 17, with most of the sample falling between the ages 10 to 15. Of the 40 children, 21 were male and 19 female, and all were white (Ridge, T. 2002).
Random sampling is an effective way to choose a sample as if done properly, it enables you to successfully generalise your results to the target population i.e. in this study, children living in poverty. To achieve this, random sampling has two key requirements; randomness and external selection. Randomness ensures that every member of the target population has an equal chance of being selected and external selection ensures respondents are chosen to participate rather than deciding to take the survey themselves (adapted from blog.vovici.com). Ridge's study fulfils both requirements, as she used a random sample of provided by the Department of Social Security, and chose the participants herself rather than in other methods where adverts for participants may be used.
Ethical Issues and the Legal Context of working with Children
There are many ethical concerns raised when working with children. Two of the main concerns when doing research with children are the research purpose, and the impact the research will have on the children. It is important to know and determine whether the research is being done with the children's best interests at heart, and what effects the research may have on the children, and future policies, practice and thinking. In Ridge's study, it was hoped that her findings would go on to ensure that any future policies put in place were child-centred and therefore based around the needs identified by children and young people themselves - and thus the study would benefit these children in the long run (Greene, S & Hogan, D. 2005). Hence it is seen that Ridge's study was ethical on those two grounds.
Another concern with using children in research is consent. Where possible, the real consent of children should be obtained. Where research involves any persons under 16 years of age, consent should be obtained from parents. If the nature of the research precludes consent being obtained from parents or permission being obtained from teachers, before proceeding with the research, the investigator must obtain approval from an Ethics Committee (www.bris.ac.uk).
Validity and, Reliability of the study
One of the main questions when using children in research is 'are children any less reliable than adult respondents?' Many seem reluctant to take children's responses at face value, perhaps because children's opinions are seen as especially pliable and susceptible to suggestion. However, psychological and medical evidence suggests that children are more reliable than previously thought, and reliability can be increased by skilful interviewing. Skilful interviewing involves avoiding asking leading questions, giving the child unambiguous and comprehensible instructions at the start of the interview and explicitly permitting 'don't know' answers to avoid best guesses. There is growing evidence to suggest that the best source of information pertinent to children is the children themselves. While parents and teachers can provide useful insights into child behaviour, the direct interviewing of children provides a far more complete account of the child's life - hence yielding more reliable results. Hence, under this viewpoint, Ridge's study would be seen as being reliable.
Although reliability of interviews is believed to be relatively high in some cases, the validity of interviews isn't. However, as Ridge completed her data analysis of the BHPYS alongside her interviews, validity can be said to be improved by using this quantitative method. Many people recognise the very different ontological and epistemological bases of the two paradigms of qualitative and quantitative data, but suggest that there can be value in bringing the two types together. Many of the questions that need to be addressed require measurement of some kind, but also greater understanding of the nature of origins of an issue. This was what Ridge did in her study, using data analysis to support the findings from her in-depth interviews. The process of bringing two or more methods together is known as triangulation - using different methods and sources to check the integrity of, or extend, inferences drawn from data - cited as one of the central ways of 'validating' qualitative research evidence (Ritchie, J & Lewis, J 2003).
In conclusion, I believe that Ridge conducted her research on childhood poverty and social exclusion in the best possible way, using a child centred approach. Using a child centred approach meant that the children and young people in Ridge's study were open and informative about their own personal lives. Their accounts have provided a much richer and more complex understanding of childhood poverty from a child's perspective. The concerns raised throughout the study pose important questions for both policy makers and practitioners regarding the harsh realities of childhood poverty. The study has provided insight into the problems and challenges that children living in poverty face in their everyday lives. Due to the child centred approach, the study has allowed children themselves to identify areas of concern such as transport, friendship, clothing expectations, school inclusion and shared peer group participation. These represent critical areas in children's social lives and in their social development. The study has provided the argument that whatever policies already in place, and are in the future chosen to respond to children's concerns, need to be child-centred and therefore based around the needs identified by children and young people themselves (www.cpag.org.uk).