Research teams should be aware that there is no age of consent in Ontario.
Should a minor (child or adolescent)be capable of consenting (meaning that he/she can understand the information and appreciate the relevance of the decision being made), then he/she should be asked to sign the consent form and no substitute decision maker consent is required. Minors with the capacity to consent on their own behalf are referred to as mature minors.
A minor who is not capable of consenting on their own behalf should have a substitute decision maker consent on their behalf and assent of the minor should be obtained.
Unlike consent, the purpose of assent is to secure a minor’s agreement to participate in the research. Providing minors with written as well as verbal information regarding research participation enhances their understanding and should be used when assenting. The assent form should include simple declarative statements that describe concretely the main features of the study procedures and the voluntary nature of research participation.
The following is a general guideline of additional considerations made across the age span:
Persons younger than age 7 and not capable of consenting: A simple verbal explanation of the study should be given with reassurances that they do not have to agree if they do not want to. This verbal assent discussion should be documented and retained. Please note that minors are not required to write their name on an official document, rather that the person obtaining assent should note that a discussion occurred, what was discussed, that the minor agreed to participate and the date on which the discussion occurred. (Refer to the guidance document of items that should be discussed for this age range.)
Persons over the age of 7 and not capable of consenting: Informed voluntary assent should be obtained without pressure from the substitute decision maker or members of the research team. The language in the assent should be at a grade 2-3 reading level. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level check in Microsoft Word can be used to verify the reading level in your assent form. If the study involves a large age range of participants, the assent form should be written at a language level that is appropriate for the youngest participants. (Refer to the REB assent template.)