The Juvenile Justice Professional's Guide to
Human Subjects Protection and the IRB Process
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Information is not just for Researchers!

All juvenile justice professionals have ethical and legal responsibilities when they collect and use youth information.

the focus of the juvenile justice system in the United States has been the delivery of services. The notion of integrating research activities and findings with traditional juvenile justice practice is sometimes viewed with skepticism and perceived as theoretical and academic. For some committed practitioners, “completing the task at hand” often takes precedence over a conscious effort to utilize research-based information in day-to-day decisions about youth. While the shift is gradual, many jurisdictions across the country do recognize the value of using research-based information to improve decision-making at the policy, institutional, program, and case levels. Research is no longer perceived as an “ivory tower” exercise but, rather, as a logical process for collecting and using information to guide decisions about juvenile justice issues and practice.

research is collecting relevant information in order to answer a question or to make a decision. A number of juvenile justice practitioners recognize that their day-to-day activities include research. They collect information about youth from the court, police departments, child protection agencies, schools, and other youth-serving organizations. They interact with and observe youth, record data, search computer files, document results of treatment and services, and collect information from other professionals. It is with all or some of this information that juvenile justice professionals respond to questions and make decisions about youth. This informal process of gathering and using information is research at the most basic level and is commonly referred to as informal research.

Formal Research
also utilizes information to answer questions and make decisions. Unlike informal research, formal research is planned in advance, systematic, follows standard procedures, and has a definite purpose. A typical research study might examine the impact of selected program interventions on specific youth traits and behaviors in order to identify programs that better serve youth with similar needs. When the same meaningful information is collected and analyzed for a specific youth population, it is more likely to provide accurate and objective information about those programs and their impact on youth. It is this systematic process of collecting and analyzing information for a predefined purpose that distinguishes formal research from informal research.

Whether research is informal or formal,
when information is collected from or about youth under the supervision of the juvenile justice system, the system is responsible for protecting youth rights and ensuring their well-being. Laws, regulations, and ethical standards form the basis for these protections. Before any formal or informal research activities are carried out, juvenile justice professionals must be knowledgeable about the regulations and ethical principles that apply.

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