A Guide To Working With Children
They say never work with children or animals, but in our industry sometimes you have no choice! And whether you’re working with one toddler or a gaggle of teenagers, there’s a few important things both productions and crew members need to be aware of.
It’s an essential, legal requirement to obtain a ‘child working license’ for any child under the age of 18 in order for them to be part of a production. This is usually organised by the production in cooperation with the child’s agent, parent or guardian and local authority. It involves all parties providing certain details; the production part must include full details of the production, the child’s role it in and their working hours. The local authority will produce a child license only when they have full details from all parties and are confident that the production is following all child working regulations (such as those listed below). It can take up to 10 working days for the license to be approved so make sure you allow plenty of time between casting and shooting.
Depending on the production, some members of the crew may be required to have DBS checks. For example, a series shot over a number of weeks that has a child in a leading role will be required to carry out DBS checks on any crew or cast members that come into direct contact with the child, such as the makeup artist, costume assistant, sound assistant and any adult actors who work closely with the child. Not all productions require crew DBS checks and it's unlikely that short term shoots such as commercials or productions where children rarely feature will ask for them.
Hours and breaks.
There are strict guidelines for the amount of hours children can be on set and in front that camera, as well as minimum requirements for rest time and meal breaks. These vary depending on the child’s age, but for an example the current guidelines for a child aged between 5 and 8 can be on set for up to 8 hours, on camera for up to 3 hours, called no earlier than 07:00 and wrap no later than 23:00 (source: BBC Guidance for the Licensing of Children in Productions). For further information on child working regulations, check out your local authority website.
Parents, chaperones and tutors.
All children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian or if one is not available, a chaperone will be provided by production. Chaperones must be fully DBS checked and have experience working with children while on set. There are people whose full time job is being a film/tv chaperone which is great for productions, as they know exactly how things work in the industry and can usually answer most of the many questions children have about being on set! Long running productions which require the child to take a number of days out of school should also provide a tutor, so that the child does not fall behind on any school work.
It’s recommended that children and young people have their own green room separate from the adult green room, cast trailers and crew areas. This is gives them a place away from the working environment to relax during rest periods and is also a safeguarding procedure. Plus it's helps to have any and all children in one place with their parents or chaperones, where they will be safe and happy, and where you can find them when it's time to bring them to make up, costume or set. You should ensure the space is child-friendly and that no equipment, hot water urns or any other potentially dangerous items are kept in the same place.
Child protection and adult content.
When working with children is important to consider what they will witness whilst on set. It's vital to shoot in such a way that the child doesn’t witness or get involved with anything inappropriate for their age. You often see children in horror films but watch closely and you’ll see they’re never in the same shot, directly witnessing any violence or spectacle. You might see their reaction or the back of their head in shot (most likely a stand in or double), but at the time of filming - presuming the production did it's job in protecting them - would have kept the child away from any adult content.
Working with children can be a great experience for both the child and the production. At Omni we’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of talented children and young people, across a range of productions including dramas, commercials and charity films.