Ethics of asking

The Daily Express have a story about a survey carried out with school children in Perth and Kinross.  The report focuses on the concerns expressed by one parent who is quoted as saying:

“Asking children for information about potential illegal activities when you, in fact, have a duty to report them to the relevant authority, leaves us stunned. ”

The council in their reply point out that parents were given the chance to ask for their children not to be included and that the children did not have to answer any questions they felt uncomfortable about.

(If our recent experience of working with local authorities is anything to by then this research may have needed approval by an ethics committee.)

I’m not sure how widely this view of the responsibilities of the council will be held by other parents; who after all would appreciate it if having given permission for the questions to be asked then found the police visiting their home to caution their children?

But the reaction does suggest to me that those of us interested in asking these sorts of questions need to take care when planning, communicating and carrying out our projects.

The drug prevention standards published by the EMCDDA have some useful guidance on the ethics of drug prevention.  The

principles of ethical drug prevention in the

standards are:

  • adhering to legal requirements;

  • respecting participants’ rights and autonomy (e.g. as defined in international frameworks on

    human rights and the rights of children );

  • providing real benefits for participants (i.e. ensuring that the programme is relevant and useful for


  • causing no harm or substantial disadvantages for participants (e.g. iatrogenic effects, illness or

    injury, exclusion, stigma);

  • providing transparent, truthful and comprehensive information


  • obtaining participants’ consent before participation;

  • ensuring that participation is voluntary;

  • treating participant data confidentially;

  • tailoring the intervention to participants’ needs


  • involving participants as partners in the development, implementation, and evaluation of the

    programme; and

  • protecting participants’ and staff members’ health and safety.

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