Assessing Parent Decisions About Child Participation in a Behavioral Health Intervention Study and Utility of Informed Consent Forms

JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Jul 1;3(7):e209296. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.9296.


Importance: Obtaining informed consent is an important ethical obligation for clinical research participation that is imperfectly implemented. Research on improving consent processes often focuses on consent forms, but little is known about consent forms' influence on decision-making compared with other types of engagement.

Objective: To evaluate whether parents decide whether to enroll their children in research before or after they receive the consent form.

Design, setting, and participants: An online survey of 88 parents who enrolled or declined to enroll their child in a weight management intervention study between January 2, 2018, and June 24, 2019, was conducted; surveys were completed between February 2, 2018, and July 9, 2019. A 31-item survey asked about impressions of the study throughout the enrollment process, timing of enrollment decisions, and decision-making factors. Responses were summarized descriptively and subgroups were compared using the Fisher exact test or χ2 test.

Main outcomes and measures: Self-reported timing of enrollment decision.

Results: A total of 106 parents were approached and gave permission for their contact information to be shared with the study team; 22 additional parents declined to allow their information to be shared, and 24 lost contact with the partner study before they could be asked for permission. A total of 88 parents (67 enrollees, 21 decliners) completed the survey (83% participation rate); 79 of 88 reporting gender (instead of sex, as biological sex was not relevant to survey) information were women (91%), 66 participants (75%) were non-Hispanic White, and 63 participants (72%) had annual household incomes greater than or equal to $70 000. No significant differences in respondent characteristics between enrollees and decliners were identified. Fifty-nine parents (67%) responded that they decided whether to enroll in the weight management study before receiving the consent form. Only 17 of 69 parents (25%) who remembered receiving the consent form responded that it taught them new information.

Conclusions and relevance: The findings of this study suggest that interventions to improve informed consent forms may have limited influence on decision-making because many research decisions occur before review of the consent form. It appears that regulatory review and interventions to improve decision-making should focus more on early engagement (eg, recruitment materials). Future studies should test timing of decisions in other types of research with different populations and clinical settings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Consent Forms / standards*
  • Decision Making*
  • Disclosure
  • Ethnicity / psychology
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent* / ethics
  • Informed Consent* / psychology
  • Informed Consent* / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Patient Selection / ethics*
  • Research Subjects / psychology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors