Research involving children and young people raises particular ethical concerns about:

  • their capacity to understand what the research entails, and therefore whether their consent to participate is sufficient for their participation.
  • the potential for coercion by parents, peers, researchers, or others to participate in research.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an agreement signed by almost all countries in the world, including Australia. The Convention explains many different rights for children and young people (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2023).  These rights also apply every time a child or young person participates in research. Children have the right to:

Children and young people should freely decide to participate in research, and should:

  • Be told they can change their mind and quit at any time, and they can choose how much information they want to share, and with whom they wish to share this information and who they want to be present during the interview (including after the research study e.g. parents, teachers etc).
  • Not be pressured to participate, are allowed to say ‘no’ and told there will be no negative consequences if they choose not to participate or withdraw.
  • Be advised if they do decide to quit the study, they have the right for all personal information to be deleted from the study, and that this means that all personal information will be deleted from the study unless the study was already published or the researchers cannot separate what was said from what other people said.
  • Be provided with appropriate support contact details.

The young person should be advised:

  • Everything that they say during the research will be private and confidential, including when the researchers share the results of the study, nobody will know their name, where they live, or other personal information about them. Whilst confidentiality is the best practice, in certain circumstances, children may want to be identified, and if this is considered, e.g sharing of their story in a way that poses no threat to them and /or recognises their contribution to the research, this should be agreed by the child in an on-going conversation and consent process.
  • Only the people who were there with them when the research took place will know what they said and did.
  • The researchers should do everything to help protect the young person’s privacy, and the young person should be advised that someone may guess who they are from something they said, or another child or young person who was there may tell others what happened during the research e.g. during a focus group. The young person should be advised if this is something that makes them feel very worried, it may be better that they do not participate in the study.
  • If any pictures or recordings are involved in the research study, the researchers should ask permission to use those images or videos and provided detail about confidentiality.
  • There is an ethical obligation for researchers to report safety concerns. This must be done in a sensitive manner and in consultation with the child or young person and the relevant mandatory reporting guidelines.

Research in schools

In most cases the Education Department or Principal require ACU approval first. You should make contact with the relevant organisations as you may be able to submit concurrent applications, but any Education approvals will be subject to you receiving ACU’s ethics approval. . The HREC require a copy of the relevant Department of Education or Principal’s approval letter. In most cases, this can be supplied after ethical approval from the ACU HREC is gained. Research cannot commence until we receive a copy of all relevant outstanding approvals. Please see individual guidelines below:

Informed consent 

Chapter 4.2 in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2023) outlines the ethical concerns for children and young people in research. In most instances, the parent/guardian and the child should provide consent to participate. The HREC will consider and may approve research to which only the young person consents, if it is satisfied that the research is low risk, aims to benefit the participant group, and involves only young people who are able to provide informed consent.

Research with children and young people under 18 years of age raises particular issues around informed consent. Usually, you need to get consent from:

  • the child or young person and
  • the parent or guardian.

When you are seeking consent from a child or young person, you need to think about:

  • their capacity to understand what the research involves and
  • the complexity of the research, and its potential risks and benefit.

You should respect the developing capacity of children and young people to be involved in decisions about their participation in research - see Chapter 4.2 in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2023). In some cases, parental consent may not be necessary. For example, a 17 year-old with good literacy skills may be able to consent to low-risk research.

Justification should be provided to the HREC for the use of young person’s consent and which addresses each of the following points:

  • (a) Outline how the researchers would make the determination that the young person is mature enough to understand the relevant information and to give consent, although vulnerable because of relative immaturity in other respects;
  • (b) whether the research involves no more than low risk (see Chapter 2.1);
  • (c) how the research aims to benefit the category of children or young people to which this participant belongs; AND
  • (d) either
    • 1. the young person is estranged or separated from parents or guardian, and provision is made to protect the young person’s safety, security and wellbeing in the conduct of the research (see 4.2.5). (In this case, although the child’s circumstances may mean he or she is at some risk, for example because of being homeless, the research itself must still be no more than low risk); or
    • 2. it would be contrary to the best interests of the young person to seek consent from the parents, and provision is made to protect the young person’s safety, security and wellbeing in the conduct of the research (see 4.2.5)
    • 3. If the child cannot consent, you should still involve them in appropriate discussions about the research. Please refer to our Easy read and Parent and Guardian PICFs for guidance.
Name Purpose Format Link
Participant Information Letter and Consent Form (Parents and Guardians) Use this PICF for parents and guardians .docx Download
Participant Information Letter (Easy read) This is a simple language PICF that can be adapted to suit a specific audience, for example, young people, people with an intellectual disability, literacy issues or an Indigenous or CALD background. .docx Download

Learn more about informed consent

Child Protection and Working With Children Checks (WWCC)

All children and vulnerable adults who interact with University members on ACU sites or within the wider community have a right to feel and be safe. ACU is committed to the safety and wellbeing of children and vulnerable adults who interact with University members.

Evidence of current Working with Children/Vulnerable People Checks (WWC/V Checks) in the relevant State(s)/Territories should be provided for all researchers who will have direct contact with children in the course of their research. For ACU staff, the appropriate WWC/V Check will be a paid worker/employee check (not a volunteer or student WWC/V Check). Any researcher(s) without the appropriate current WWC/V Check(s) should be removed from the project until the WWC/V Check(s) is provided to the Ethics Secretariat. The researchers may be added to the project via a Modification Application at a later time when they can provide the evidence of the WWC/V Check(s). All WWC/V Checks will be validated with the relevant Government Agency. In New South Wales a date of birth must be provided to facilitate the validation process.

At this stage, WWC/V Checks should be attached to every relevant ethics application.

More information on WWC/V Checks and links to Government Agency websites are available from the ACU staff website.

ACU's Working with Children Policy

Further resources

See further resources below for guidance:

Page last updated on 05/04/2024

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