An Assessment of Active Versus Passive Methods for Obtaining Parental Consent

by Phyllis L. Ellickson, Jennifer Hawes-Dawson

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This study provides new information on how passive and active consent methods work in practice. Based on results from two junior high schools, the authors found that (1) almost all parents received consent packages sent by regular first class mail, but getting them to pay attention to the materials often required additional communication methods; (2) nonresponse to passive consent typically reflected conscious parental approval; (3) nonresponse to active consent generally signified latent consent, not a deliberate refusal; and (4) vigorous retrieval methods substantially raised active consent response rates, but at a high cost in time and money. These findings suggest that passive consent can provide a viable alternative to active consent when supplemented by appropriate backup and privacy safeguard measures.

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