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Aggressive in behaviour Essay

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I will use this as my title for the purposes of planning. In 1998, 47% of female prisoners had dependent children (Flynn, 1998:75). In 1999 this was estimated to be more like 55% – based on those with children sixteen or under. With the female prison population numbering around 3,250, the number of women estimated to have young children is 1788 (Harris, 2000:iv). So I feel it would be useful to try and locate around 10% of this number and ask for permission to interview and study their children. This figure would still mean a lot of work for the researchers – and there would need to be several – as not all of those approached would give permission for the research to involve their children.

As a result, I have determined that the best methods of research will be interviews and observations. The reason I have chosen these methodologies is because they are more informal, and when working with children, it is more likely to yield results than questionnaires. Questionnaires are problematical for younger children, who may be unable to write and face to face techniques are more likely to obtain information – questionnaires are not always filled in or returned to the researchers (Bell, 1999:130).

The benefits of interviewing and observation preclude the use of questionnaires, in part because they allow a certain flexibility for the researcher to further investigate any new ideas which may become apparent (Browne, 1997:406, 414). Observation is beneficial to the researcher because it can allow for additional details to be noted which the child might be unable or unwilling to express. Interviews permit a degree of familiarity between the researcher and the subject, and in turn may present opportunity to further discuss any points which the researcher feel are relevant.

In questioning children, the ethics are complex. Permission to interview the child has to be obtained, and it might be unclear from whom it should be procured. The British Psychological Society in 1996 set down a code of ethics and conduct in which it was stipulated that if the research affects someone not able to give valid consent, i.e. a child under the age of eighteen, then it needs to be obtained from whomever has legal authority to give it (Lindsay, 2000:14-15).

The first people deemed to be those with parental responsibility are the natural parents. Exceptions to this include a carer who has a resident order under the 1989 Children Act, anyone holding a temporary emergency protection order or the local authority if the child is in care (Masson, 2000:37). If the mother is in prison, as is necessary for his research, obtaining information regarding their children might be a contentious point. It will involve the co-operation of the prison management in addition to the parents, children, and the child’s’ place of education.

There being only sixteen prisons in England and Wales which house female prisoners (Flynn, 1998:57), I feel it would be easier to gain the information from a women-only establishment as the administration may be more familiar with the inmates and perhaps will be in a position to assist the research. This would require asking the prison to identify those prisoners with children, which I believe is a detail which would perhaps already be on a database. If this is not the case, it would then involve asking the women in the prison to come forward.

This would undoubtedly cause difficulties, as they may not wish to do so, perhaps through disinterest in the research or an unwillingness to be set part from the others as a result of it. Women who have been separated from their children, for whatever reason, may be emotional as a result, and therefore sensitivity is an absolute necessity. The disruption to the prison is also something which needs to be taken into consideration, but: ‘…most prisoners find it a welcome change to talk to outsiders…’ (King, 2000:303).

Once women with children between the ages of two and seventeen years have been identified and approached, their permission to interview their children must be obtained. Authorisation should also be secured from the person caring for the child away from the prison, as it is actually ethically wrong to ask permission for such things from the parent not currently the full-time carer (Masson, 2000:38). I do not know the ethics on continuing on the sole permission of the carer rather than the mother. This is the only clear means of getting access to the information required, as it would be too difficult to poll schools for the information. They would not be able to divulge the data on the children without parental permission anyway. If permission is not given by the mother or the carer, the child will not be contacted in any way. It might be interesting, however, to ask why the parents did not want to take part.

Once permission has been gained, the next step is to decide where would be best for the child to hold the interviews. The parents may have suggestions themselves, as they may prefer to have the interview conducted in their presence. This is something which will have to be taken into consideration in the conduct of the project, as it may have a bearing on the behaviour of the child. The presence of a parent, teacher or carer may influence the way the child acts, albeit perhaps indirectly, so affecting their responses to the questions. It would undoubtedly be better to interview all the children under the same conditions, but this might not be possible so it would be advisable to be prepared to be flexible. The best place would be somewhere neutral to the child perhaps a local community centre, preferably interviewing the child twice – once with a parent, carer or teacher in the room, then once without them there.

I believe this might show a variance in the child’s attitude and behaviour towards the researcher and their questions, as they will have ‘an audience to play to’ when someone they know well is in the room. It is essential, however, to interview the child in a setting in which they are comfortable. If the parents feel it would be best to interview at their home, then places such as the garden or even the stairs may provide a sense of security for the child (Masson, 2000:43). Otherwise another place to carry out an interview might be the child’s school. If the child is hostile to their school-life however, this may introduce elements of bias into their interview compared to other children who may have been interviewed at home or at a community centre.

The practicality of eliciting reliable information from a child (under eighteen years of age), is a point which quickly becomes clouded with other issues. The words of an adult may be too complex or the sentence structure poorly formed, so that a child become confused. This has been proven to be the case by several authors (Walker, 1994, Dockrell, Lewis & Lindsay, 2000), and includes children up to the age of eighteen. Minors, even those nearly eighteen, are not always proficient in language skills, and may have difficulty understanding the wording of questions or in formulating their own answers (Walker, 1994:4). There is a need to be sure of how a child is answering a question put to them, as they could be responding to a part of a question rather than the whole question.

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