IRBs must give special consideration to protecting the welfare of particularly vulnerable participants, such as children, prisoners, pregnant women, mentally disabled persons, etc.

Vulnerability refers to the risks that researchers request their participants to undertake in relation to the ability of the participants to make fully informed consent. Populations routinely considered to be vulnerable include: children, prisoners, pregnant women, the mentally handicapped or disabled, economically or educationally disadvantaged persons, participants engaged in criminal activities, people under medical treatment for an illness relevant to the risk the researcher asks them to undertake, and participants who may risk or feel that they may risk retribution by a person with authority over them as a consequence of participation or non-participation in the study. Non-literate or non-English speaking populations may also be considered vulnerable in some situations.

Children are defined as minors in the jurisdiction in which they reside. Washington defines anyone younger than the age of 18 as a minor. The participation of children in research generally requires both parental/guardian informed consent and the child’s written informed consent or “assent” (agreement) in language that s/he could be reasonably expected to understand. Whitman students who are under 18 years of age are considered children under Washington law, and thus require parental consent to participate in research.

The IRB acknowledges that in many contexts outside of the United States, age does not easily correlate with both cultural and legal definitions of adulthood as defined in the U.S. In those instances where researchers are working with different criteria for the definition of children and adults, the following clause will apply: Children are defined as minors in the jurisdiction where they reside. It is the responsibility of the researchers/applicant to provide a justification for this exemption.

Research conducted in schools must be approved by the school or the school system, typically by both the superintendent’s office and the principal. Approval by an individual teacher is insufficient. For research within the Walla Walla school system, researchers need to first contact Christy Krutulis (, executive director of Teaching and Learning for Walla Walla Public Schools.