Each time a research protocol involving children comes to us for review, my committee members and I look to one another for help deciding how to balance obtaining potentially valuable information that might one day impact the lives of other children with the delicate exercise of approving a protocol involving children. Often, we don’t have the answer within our ranks, and do not know who to look to for assistance. We ask ourselves: "Who can help us now?"
These feelings are common within the Research Ethics Committees (REC) of countries such as Colombia, where committee members do not have clear government regulations to guide them in making decisions. Decisions may be questioned by external agents who, in their own maturation processes, have set clear norms and regulations in relation to research review and oversight. Since these standards —which are not necessarily communicated—do not equal government regulations, the daily concern for advancing ethical standards in research globally can only be adequately addressed if the members of RECs abroad can find an answer to our question: "Who can help us now?"
I believe I found my answer at PRIM&R’s AER16 conference. During Panel III: Research with children and adolescents: Who and how is the decision made to participate?, and thanks to the guidance offered by the presenters, I better understand some elements involved in making decisions about how to evaluate research protocols that involve children—especially from a social, behavioral, and educational research (SBER) perspective (my primary focus on the REC within my university). Thanks to PRIM&R and the training in each of the sessions I attended at AER16, I feel we are closer to answering that important question: "Who can help us now?"
Being able to discuss the work that I have been doing in my ethics committee and with the Network of Human Research Ethics Committees with Human Participants with other attendees during my poster presentation was an important and satisfying objective that I fulfilled during my attendance at AER16. The dialogue and exchange of ideas, and hearing about the experiences of others, were of great help to my work for the protection of human subjects in SBER.
In fact, participating in these sessions at AER16 encouraged me to take on new challenges within my REC, since, as coordinator of the committee, it is my duty to disseminate the great wealth of information I obtained in each session, in talking informally with other attendees and conference speakers. I am eager to share all I have learned with my colleagues!
Arturo Herreño Marin, MA, is a university professor in Cali, Colombia. He has a master's degree in education with a focus on human development; is an educational research specialist in the context of university teaching; and has a degree in philosophy and religious science. He has worked with the IRB of Universidad de San Buenaventura Cali for the past five years, primarily on social, behavioral, and educational research activities.