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This paper evaluated the use of the qualitative method in the research article by Cadell, Coholic and Lougheed (2009) titled “Exploring the Helpfulness of Arts-based methods with Children Living in Forster Care.” The article examined the possible use of arts-based therapy methods in the posttraumatic growth of children in foster care. The research in the article utilized a qualitative method in ascertaining and explaining the impact of holistic arts-based therapy among children in foster care. The evaluation of the qualitative research methodology in the research article was conducted in regards to the philosophical perspective of the qualitative method, the sampling process of the method, and the data collection procedures. Also, the strengths and limitations of the qualitative processes were evaluated, and the elements of dependability and credibility described in the context of the qualitative aspects used in the article.
Overview of the Qualitative Methodology
The qualitative methodology is preoccupied with the description and interpretation of the variations observed within a population. The primary purpose of the qualitative method is to describe and explain the qualitative aspects of events, cultures, and organizations as to reveal the underlying meaning to the phenomena of interest (Dubois, Renee & Richardson, 2011). Unlike the quantitative method that strives to understand the cause and effect relationship between the variables, the qualitative method is preoccupied with understanding the non-quantifiable factors that shape the complexity of the cause and effect relationship in a social system (Gary, 2004). In this context, the qualitative method is interested in understanding and depicting the world through contextual and holistic perspectives rather than through empirical perspectives.
The qualitative methodology adopts the interpretive philosophical perspective. The interpretive philosophical perspective challenges the concept of scientific determinism. The interpretive perspective asserts that relationships in nature do not exist independently of the conscious observation of the researchers (Patton, 2014). Rather, the phenomena in nature can be understood based on the interpretive frameworks of consciousness, shared meanings, and language among other contextual factors within a human population. The interpretive philosophy shares principles with symbolic interactionism whereby the meanings of reality are derived from the symbolic meanings in the society (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015). Thus, the qualitative method operates with the elements of multiple interpretations and dialogical reasoning.
The goal of the qualitative methodology is to understand the social construction of a phenomenon rather that to explain and predict the nature of a phenomenon. The qualitative method utilizes approaches including the grounded theory, ethnography, phenomenology, and field research (Ponterotto, 2005). The goal of the grounded theory approach is to develop a theory based on the observations within a population while the purpose of ethnography is to understand the nature of social phenomena through active participation within the cultural setting of the phenomena (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015). On the other hand, the phenomenology approach strives to understand social phenomena through the interpretation of the participants’ perspectives while the field research approach involves directly observing and interpreting social phenomena in their natural states.
The research article by Cadell, Coholic and Lougheed (2009) utilized the grounded theory approach. The research in the article adopted the assumption that there was no absolute understanding of trauma in social settings. Rather, trauma was understood based on the unique “meanings people attach to their experiences” (Cadell, Coholic & Lougheed, 2009, p. 66). Thus, conceptualizing and treating trauma among children in foster care required the holistic consideration of the contextual needs and circumstances of each child in the care system. Therefore, the research intended to develop a theoretical understanding of the role of arts-based group therapy in meeting the specific needs and circumstances of traumatized children in foster care.
The grounded theory approach in the research article was evidenced by the manner in which the data collected from the study were subjected to coding and memoing processes. In grounded theory, coding involves the categorization of data and observations into distinct groups and establishing the systematic relationship between the observations in a single category (Dubois, Renee & Richardson, 2011). On the other hand, memoing entails the procedural recording of the researchers’ thoughts and interpretations of the systematic relationships as to make sense of the observations in the light of an emerging theory. Thus, the research article made categorized observations regarding the use of arts-based therapy in understanding the meaning of trauma among children in foster care.
Overall Strengths and Limitations of the Qualitative Method
The leading strength of the qualitative method is the ability to explain complex and unique social phenomena. Primarily, the qualitative method takes into consideration the contextual and reflexive dynamics of a phenomenon under study; hence, unearthing the complex interdependency of variables in the study (Gary, 2004). Also, the operationalization of the qualitative method is cost efficient. Qualitative methods of gathering data include interviews and observations which require limited financial and human resources compared to the processes of surveys in quantitative research.
Despite the acknowledge strengths, the qualitative method is undermined by limited precision. Every social phenomenon has unique contextual parameters; hence, the findings from one qualitative study are rarely generalizable to another population (Dubois, Renee & Richardson, 2011). Also, the qualitative research method is undermined by its complexity during data collection processes. The interviewing process in qualitative research requires enhanced knowledge and expertise in dealing with participants so as to elicit the correct responses. Therefore, the qualitative research process may not be easily operationalized by inexperienced researchers.
The study sample comprised of children in foster care systems aged between 8 and 15 years. Most children in the foster care are expected to have encountered traumatic events ranging from neglect, violence, the sudden death of a parent, and physical and sexual abuse. The traumatic encounters predispose the children in foster care to negative psychosocial outcomes including risks of suicide, posttraumatic stress disorder, and poor self-esteem (Cadell, Coholic & Lougheed, 2009). Thus, art-based intervention methods were perceived as possessing effectiveness in strengthening the feelings, behaviors, and thoughts of the traumatized children in foster care.
The child participants for the study were sampled from the Children’s Aid Society in the Canadian Districts of Sudbury and Manitoulin. The two districts contained a population of approximately 160,000 people (Cadell, Coholic & Lougheed, 2009). The participants for the arts-based group therapy were sourced based on the referrals from the Children’s Aid Society (CAS). The CAS referred children with psychosocial symptoms including social withdrawal, quick tempers, posttraumatic stress disorders, and anxiety (Cadell, Coholic & Lougheed, 2009). The referral programs were based on the informed consent of the children’s foster parents or caseworkers. Also, the referral programs observed the voluntary efforts of the children to willingly and actively participate in the arts-based groups.
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In collaboration with the Children’s Aid Society, the arts-based group program contained 17 groups. Each group comprised of 5-6 children. 8 groups comprised of girls aged between 8 and 12 years while 6 groups comprised of boys of 8 to 12 years (Cadell, Coholic & Lougheed, 2009). The other 3 groups comprised of girls aged 13 to 15 years. All the children in the 17 groups had experienced repeated cases of sexual abuse, domestic violence, or death of a parent. All the children attended at least 1 six-week group sessions for the therapy (Cadell, Coholic & Lougheed, 2009). Approximately 50% of the participants in the 17 groups attended the entire 12 sessions for the arts-based group therapy program.
Ethics in the Sampling Procedure
The sampling process paid keen attention to the ethical parameters of consent and volunteerism. First, the researchers ensured that all the children enrolled in the group therapies on the voluntary basis. No child was forced to take part in the therapy, and any child was at liberty to exit the groups any time during the program. Besides the voluntary basis of enrolment, sound ethics were operationalized based on the informed consent from the foster parents and the case workers. Every child was included in the groups after gaining the informed consent of the legal guardians.
Regarding the strengths of the sampling procedure, only the participants who had presented symptoms of trauma including anxiety, withdrawal, and quick temperateness were included. Thus, the partnership with the local child protection agency at the Canadian districts of Sudbury and Manitoulin was instrumental in obtaining the most appropriate sample for the study (Cadell, Coholic & Lougheed, 2009). On the weaknesses, the sample was non-representative of a normal population. Only 6 groups comprised of boys while 11 were made up of girls. Therefore, the sample was skewed towards the female gender; hence, impaired the validity of the findings.
Data Collection Process
The children were subjected to at least 1 six-week session of the arts-based group therapy. 50% of the participants completed the recommended 12 six-week sessions (Cadell, Coholic & Lougheed, 2009). After the therapy sessions, the participants were interviewed. The interview process sought to elicit responses related to the helpfulness of the arts-based programs. The interview sessions lasted for approximately 30 minutes per child. During the interview, the researchers focused on understanding the feelings of the children before and after the therapy sessions. The responses of the children during the interview were coded using the NVivo program.
The responses from the children were categorized into the themes of ‘fun,’ ‘excited’ and ‘awesome.’ The children described their feelings while participating in the group programs. More insightful responses were obtained from the children who stayed longest within the program. The feelings of the children were intended to determine whether or not the arts-based groups changed the self-esteem and the confidence levels of the traumatized children. The data collected would subsequently be used to synthesize the theory that defines the contextual circumstances of trauma among children in foster care.
Ethics in the Data Collection
The data collection process relied on the responses of the children. No case workers, teachers or foster parents were involved in gathering the responses to the interview questions. In this context, the sole use of the child participants eliminated misinformation and biases in the research process. Also, the data collection process utilized standardized methods of data collection, particularly the NVivo program. The use of the standardized approach helped improve on the objective attributes of the data collection process.
Credibility and Dependability in the Qualitative Methodology
In the qualitative research method, credibility entails the degree of trustworthiness of research findings. As an aspect of trustworthiness, credibility is not based on the quantity of the data and information presented by the researchers. Rather, credibility entails the degree to which the data and information presented in the research reflect the true nature of reality within the population of study. On the other hand, dependability refers to the degree to which the findings presented in a research article can be reproduced in independent research projects. Dependability is enhanced when the procedures and methods utilized in a qualitative research can be repeated to achieve similar findings.
In the research article by Cadell, Coholic and Lougheed (2009), the element of credibility was optimized through the study of traumatized children. According to the Children’s Aid Society of Canada, all the participants utilized in the study had presented symptoms of trauma. Thus, the use of the appropriate population for the study ensured that the findings from the research reflected the trustworthy nature of the arts-based therapy aspects of the traumatized children. On the other hand, the element of dependability was enhanced through the use of the grounded theory approach. The grounded theory approach is characterized by procedural steps which begin with the collection of the data and ends with the construction of the theory. Therefore, independent researchers can follow the same procedures of the grounded theory and obtain similar findings.
General Evaluation of the Article
From a personal perspective, the qualitative research article by Cadell, Coholic and Lougheed (2009) operationalized the grounded theory approach successfully. It was necessary to adopt a philosophical perspective that takes into consideration the unique contextual circumstances surrounding the each child to understand the different traumatic experiences of children in foster care. In essence, the use of the grounded theory was instrumental in understanding the role of arts-based group therapy in treating traumatized children. Therefore, the high dependability and the credibility of the research paper were attributable to the selection of the most appropriate research methodology that supported the interpretive philosophical approach.
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In conclusion, the article by Cadell, Coholic and Lougheed (2009) cotained the distinct attributes of the qualitative method. In particular, the distinct attributes of the qualitative method included the interpretive philosophical perspective and the use of the grounded theory approach. Also, other distinct qualities of the qualitative method included strengths ranging from resource efficiency and the consideration of contextual factors to weaknesses including the limited precision and complexity of operationalizing the qualitative method. Moreover, the sampling procedures and the data collection processes were conducted in ethical manners. The sampling and the data collection processes were guided by the principles of the grounded theory approach. Thus, the enhance credibility and dependability of the findings stemmed from the successful articulation of the qualitative research method in understating the use of arts-based group therapy in the treatment of traumatized children.
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