Online surveys are now in regular use. Methodologies typically take one of two forms: (1) e-mail-based surveys in which participants are e-mailed directly and the response returned by e-mail and (2) Web-based surveys in which the survey is hosted on a Web site for participants to complete. In the case of web-based surveys, potential participants may be solicited using networks of contacts, recommendations and advertisements. Alessi and Martin (2010) offer a useful discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of online surveys. An advantage being that lay people, self-help groups and other citizens’ organisations can compile them and use the results to draw attention to issues, injustices, their interests and campaigns. In this sense such surveys are democratic and empowering for those who may not have access to more sophisticated means of research.
The disadvantages of online surveys are well documented (McInroy, 2016) and include:
- bias – the ‘reach’ of the survey may be limited to interests close to the originators
- the anonymous nature of online responses means that the authenticity of the responses cannot be verified
- in surveys that seek an evaluation of services, responses that praise are regularly outnumbered by those that complain or are negative
- there is no safeguard against the survey being completed multiple times by the same person or persons.
It is possible that one or all of these drawbacks were present in the present survey, and they are acknowledged as shortcomings.
As a response to the potential disadvantages of the PAR survey, it has to be noted that, parents who have experienced, or are in ongoing child protection processes, face considerable barriers to having their voices heard. This may be because of fear of reprisals or the consequences for their children should they be identified. And, because many of the parents involved in child protection processes do not have the resources or spirit to express their views through traditional channels such as elected representatives or writing to the press, the internet with its capacity for ease of use and anonymity, offers a convenient medium for voicing discontent or, as noted, less frequently, satisfaction( Buckley et al, 2011).
For this group of respondents, the findings do provide this channel for their lived experiences and perceptions of agency intervention. The value of the results is supported by the relatively large response rate and the lack of any previous survey of Scottish parents’ experiences and views of child protection processes. Furthermore, an element of transferability is present in this study in that the themes that will be discussed are echoed in already published research on parents’ perspectives, thus lending integrity to the results of an analysis of the survey.
The Challenge of Researcher Bias
The author has worked as a qualified children and families social worker for forty years and now lectures and writes on the subject. He is passionate about the capacity of social work to bring about change for the good in people’s lives and has published extensively on many aspects of social work practice. He has brought a critical eye to adoption, social work history and contemporary children and families social work practice. He was involved in the foundation of PAR, his partner and friends are members of PAR, and he has met other members of the group. He was invited to analyse the results of the survey on the basis of being a supportive and engaged academic and as such trusted to treat the responses with care and compassion. In the words of Banks (1998), the author is an ‘indigenous-insider’, that is a researcher that holds the values and perspectives, plus knowledge, of the community being researched. Here, bias can be ‘a source of insight as well as error (Aguiler 1981, p. 26).