Evaluating Active Parental Consent Procedures for School Programming: Addressing the Sensitive Topic of Suicide Prevention

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school-based research, response rates, suicide prevention, adolescent health

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Background: Suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents. Whereas school-based prevention programs are effective, obtaining active consent for youth participation in public health programming concerning sensitive topics is challenging. We explored several active consent procedures for improving participation rates.

Methods: Five active consent methods (in-person, students taking forms home, mailing, mailing preceded by primers, mailing followed by reminder calls) were compared against passive consent procedures to evaluate recruitment success, as determined by participation (proportion who responded yes) and response (proportion who returned any response) rates.

Results: Participation acceptance rates ranged from 38 to 100% depending on consent method implemented. Compared with passive consent, active consent procedures were more variable in response and participation rates. In-person methods provided higher rates than less interpersonal methods, such as mailing or students taking consents home. Mailed primers before or reminder calls after consent forms were mailed increased response but not participation rates. Students taking consents home resulted in the lowest rates.

Conclusions: Although passive consent produces the highest student participation, these methods are not always appropriate for programs addressing sensitive topics in schools. In-person active consent procedures may be the best option when prioritizing balance between parental awareness and successful student recruitment.

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Journal of School Health, v. 87, issue 2, p. 114-120