Ethical standards are critically important when conducting research with young children and other vulnerable populations. Some key points are:
- Research procedures must never harm children, physically or psychologically.
- Children and their families have the right to full information about the research in which they may participate, including possible risks and benefits. Their decision to participate must be based on what is called "informed consent."
- All those who receive federal funds for research must use specific informed consent procedures with research participants.
- Children’s questions about the research should be answered in ways children can understand.
- Children and their families have the right to refuse to participate in research or to withdraw from participating at any time.
- Information obtained through research with children should remain confidential. Researchers should not disclose personal information or the identity of participants in written or oral reports and discussions.
Further understanding of ethical issues in research may be found in the following resources:
NAEYC’s Code of Ethical Conduct and Statement of Commitment presents general ethical principles, although it does not specifically discuss research with children.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides guidance on ethical research practices for children (the NIH definition of "children" extends to age 21). These practices are recognized by all universities. The standards set by the NIH guide the vast majority of federally-funded research. Information is available at the Office of Extramural Research (OER) web site at grants1.nih.gov/grants/policy/hs/index.htm.
The Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) has developed Ethical Standards for Research with Children.
The Ethical Standards of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) include guidelines for research with children.