Dr Josephine Ensign from the University of Washington's School of Nursing explored the attitudes of young homeless people - who are increasingly being recognised as medically vulnerable members of the community - through individual interviews and focus groups.
She discovered that although the majority of the 43 study participants were happy to receive small incentives to take part in research, they felt that useful items worth up to $10 dollars were sufficient.
One male participant recalled how some homeless street youngsters he knew were given $60 to take part in a study one used the money for heroin and almost died as a result.
He reflected the popular view that phone cards, coffee vouchers or useful items like backpacks and clothes were much more appropriate. "Things we need and that won't hurt us" he stressed.
"This is an important finding" says Dr Ensign. "Most of the young people we spoke to were keen to take part in research, but felt that monetary incentives of more than $5 to $10 could be coercive and harmful to young people, especially if they were substance abusers.
"There are international guidelines that state that research remuneration should not be so high that it is coercive, but there are no clear guidelines as to what that level is. It is down to researchers to make value judgements based on the individual project and the study participants involved.
"In the case of this study, which looked at the attitudes of 15 to 23 year-olds, we felt that giving each person who took part a $10 phone card and providing refreshments was appropriate for us and acceptable to them. Feedback from staff who helped us recruit the homeless young people i
Contact: Annette Whibley
Blackwell Publishing Ltd.