Anglicare research shines a light on the experiences of vulnerable Tasmanians – by supporting them to contribute their knowledge and expertise.
In the past year, our Social Action and Research Centre (SARC) has released major research reports about the challenges facing families involved with the Child Safety system, and how at-risk children are missing out on education.
SARC carries out in-depth investigations and makes recommendations about how to improve systems and services.
“The focus of our research is always on people who face disadvantage and adversity in their lives, in particular poverty,” said Catherine Robinson, a researcher with SARC. “Our work highlights the experiences of Tasmanians who face multiple challenges – such as poverty and mental illness, housing stress or homelessness, or involvement with child protection services”.
Catherine said one-third of the time allocated for a research project was spent setting up appropriate supports for participants. “We put frameworks in place for all our interactions with people who’ve experienced vulnerability,” she said. These are based on ethical principles including respect and justice, informed consent, and minimising risks for participants.
For example, SARC does not directly approach people to take part in research – instead choosing to work only through service providers. “We rely on these organisations to connect us with people we can invite to take part in research,” said Catherine. “It’s important that research participants have an outside third party to debrief with or seek support from if that’s something they need to do”.
Catherine said all research processes were reviewed externally by independent ethics review committees. “We have to describe in detail our processes of recruitment, exactly what we are going to do, and how we will safely and securely store information,” she said. “These committees are made up of between 15-20 people and we cannot proceed with our research until their expectations are met”.
“What ethics committees are looking for – and what we look for in our own practice – is that essential principle of ‘do no harm’,” she explained.
All research participants have the entire process clearly explained and give consent for their information to be used. “We provide them with all the details about participating – what it will actually be like for them, what are the potential benefits, and also the possible negatives of taking part,” said Catherine. “After a research interview, I give participants a full transcript so they can add to it, or change anything they’re uncomfortable with”.
Catherine said the Tasmanians who took part in research had valuable understanding and insight to contribute. “Suffering of any kind is an extremely silencing process,” she said. “Research can provide a vehicle for articulating those experiences”.
“We respect that people taking part in research are perfectly able and often willing to share their experiences – and to decide what they want to talk about and what they don’t,” she said.