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Ethical issues in research with homeless youths


  • Josephine Ensign,

    1. Josephine Ensign DrPH FNP Associate Professor Department of Psychosocial and Community Health, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
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  • Seth Ammerman

    1. Seth Ammerman MD Associate Clinical Professor Department of Pediatrics, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Stanford University, California, USA
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J. Ensign: e-mail:


Title. Ethical issues in research with homeless youths.

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study to documente researcher, healthcare provider and programme administrators’ experiences with ethical issues in research with homeless youths in North America.

Background.  While there are legal and ethical guidelines for research with adolescents and with vulnerable populations in general, there are no specific guidelines for the ethical conduct of research with homeless youths.

Methods.  Using a web-based questionnaire, healthcare and social service providers, programme administrators and researchers working with homeless young people throughout the United States of America and Canada were surveyed in 2005. The survey group consisted of 120 individuals; a total of 72 individuals completed the survey. Survey questions included experiences with using incentives in research with homeless youths, consent and experiences with ethics review boards. Numerical data were analysed using frequencies and cross-tabulations. Text data were analysed qualitatively.

Findings.  Researchers doing mental health and/or substance use research tended to use money as a research incentive, whereas healthcare providers and programme administrators tended to use non-monetary incentives. The majority of respondents reported using written consent for research from homeless youths, including minors. Respondents reporting difficulties with ethics review boards were mainly involved with intervention research.

Conclusion.  Consensus is needed from a variety of stakeholders, including homeless youths and service providers, on use of various types of research incentives for different types of research, as well as use of consent for homeless youths who are minors.

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