Working with Children and Young People
Guidance in Full
In this article
Safeguarding the Welfare of Children and Young People
The interests and safety of children and young people must take priority over any editorial requirement. There are many aspects to safeguarding the welfare of children and young people, ranging from child protection to keeping their personal details safe. They apply whether we are making a film with a child or receiving user generated content from young people. This guidance note gives advice to help us maintain the duty of care we have to our young contributors and actors.
Child Protection Policy
The BBC has a Child Protection Policy (for children and young people under eighteen) which BBC staff should comply with. See here for the policy.
It is advisable that independent companies making programmes for the BBC which involve working with under eighteens should have their own Child Protection Policy in line with the BBC's own policy. This applies both for companies who are making children's programmes but also those making adult programmes that involve children.
Each BBC division has a child protection nominated manager who has special responsibility for implementing the policy in their area. A list of BBC nominated managers can be found here (link only available for internal BBC users).
It is also advisable that independents should have a named manager for child protection referrals and advice.
Depending on the nature of the project, there may be a need for staff to have had satisfactory checks before being engaged. For example there may be a need for a CRB or Disclosure Scotland check. Alternatively the individual may be required to complete a personal disclosure.
It is important not only to think about staff who will be recording or filming with children, but any others who might interact with children on the project, such as those who will have access to children's personal data. BBC nominated managers can advise on whether and which checks are appropriate.
Risk assessments should take account of whether individuals need to be formally checked or sign a personal disclosure.
Children at Risk
If you have a concern that a child or young person is at risk of harm you should refer this to your nominated manager. For BBC staff the Working with Children website contains an incident record form to complete and give to your manager in such cases. See here for the form (link only available for internal BBC users).
However, if you suspect a child is at immediate risk of harm and the nominated manager cannot be contacted immediately, the police should be alerted straight away.
If you become aware of any incident of suspected "grooming" online, you must refer it promptly to the CBBC Interactive Executive Management Team (or, for Commercial Services, to the relevant editorial leader) who will report it to the appropriate authorities. The team can be contacted via the internal BBC global address as CBBC Interactive Executive Management Team. Independents should inform their BBC Commissioning Editor and can contact the CBBC Interactive Executive Management Team.
There is detailed advice about suspected "grooming" online and how to escalate it in the Guidance Note on Interacting with Children and Young People Online.
The BBC Child Protection Policy states that BBC individuals who, through the course of their work in a school, become concerned about the welfare of a child, will share that concern with the school's designated child protection teacher, who will follow locally agreed procedures. If it is felt more appropriate, any issue can be referred through the relevant BBC child protection nominated manager.
Keeping Children's Details Safe
Part of our duty of care to children and young people involves keeping their personal details safe.
Identifying Children in our Output
Even when the story is non-controversial, there may be important reasons not to identify a child. An example could be where you are filming in a school and one child should not be shown because they and their mother have fled from an abusive partner. If the child was filmed, their location could be revealed to the ex-partner. Advice is available from Editorial Policy.
In many non-controversial and non-sensitive cases it may be appropriate to name a child by their first name and to give out the name of the large town they live in or near. However even this may be too much information in some circumstances (for example if the child has an exceptionally distinctive first name and their location must not be revealed).
If you are thinking about giving out more details about a child, for example their surname in a story where the child is already publically known (a sports star for instance), or where they have won an award and deserve recognition, this should be considered and - where appropriate - discussed as part of the consent process.
Naming the contributor's school can make a child locatable by those who might wish to cause them harm. It is not usually advisable to name the school unless it is part of the story, for example where the school has done something interesting and so is the main focus of the piece. Where a school is named, consider limiting other information that is given out.
Think carefully about when to film children in school uniform. Even if the name on a school jumper is not legible on screen, a distinctively-coloured uniform may identify the school to that area's inhabitants.
We must keep children's personal data safe for their protection, abiding by the Data Protection Act. The Editorial Guidelines outline the main requirements.
Remember to consider all points at which children's data needs to be kept securely. For example think about what information goes into a script and who might have access to that script, or if user generated content or correspondence is being physically taken to a studio or public area, mask the contact details.
The BBC's Information Policy and Compliance team advise BBC staff on data protection. Their website contains a link to the BBC's Data Protection handbook and lists who to contact for help and advice. See here (Link only available to internal BBC users)
The requirement to obtain informed consent is a key principle of the Editorial Guidelines and it is important to familiarise yourselves well with the "Informed Consent for Children and Young People" clauses in the Guidelines.
When seeking informed consent from a child, all the information should be given in a way that can be understood by the recipient of it. An appropriately-pitched explanation of the proposed contribution should be given. In pitching your explanation, think carefully about the age and maturity of the child in question. Sometimes it can be helpful to ask the child to say back to you what he/she understands his/her participation would involve, to check they have understood. Make sure the child does not feel pressurised to agree - let them know it is okay to accept or decline. (Children often see adults as authority figures with whom they cannot disagree.) Also look for non-verbal signals that may express what a child is really feeling about participating.
It is important to explain any possible consequences to the child or young person and how these would be managed. Consideration should be given to the potential for malicious comment to be circulated on the internet and how this could be managed. It may be relevant to give the programme title too, especially if it is controversial.
With babies and toddlers, it may sometimes be appropriate to consult an independent expert to discuss the child's involvement.
In addition to verbal communication, an easy to understand confirmation letter could be addressed to both the child and parent. Or you could write two briefing documents - one for the child, one for the parent. This will be necessary if there are any surprises planned for the child, as parents should be made aware of these. Any likely consequences of the contribution - both negative and positive - should also be made clear to both parties.
Briefing documents/confirmation letters to parents could also include:
- Practical details;
- Health and safety details;
- Inform parents that there is a child protection policy which staff should be compliant with. Staff should not ask for children's personal details or offer their own details. BBC/Independent company contact details should be provided by staff (For example programme email addresses or phone numbers, not individual email addresses - see "Appropriate behaviour with children and young people" below). It should also be made clear that staff should not be placed in a caring or supervisory position. (If this is to happen there has to be express agreement of all parties in advance of the visit).
- Describe how the BBC/Independent protects personal data.
There is more information on parental consents for different types of user contributions in the Guidance Note on Interacting with Children and Young People Online.
The Impact of a Contribution
Even when we have secured "parental consent", we must consider carefully the impact and possible consequences of any material which involves a child, both during the production process and once the material has been broadcast.
We should think about the story we want to tell and how to do it in a way that is not detrimental to the child, either at the time, or afterwards. Consideration should be given as to what is appropriate to put into the public domain. We should pay particular attention to the expectations of privacy of people under sixteen and those who are vulnerable. A young person is unlikely to realise the consequences of sensitive or controversial information about them being broadcast. They may share quite intimate revelations with us, not being aware of any possible repercussions if this became public.
Think carefully about each child's privacy - we should pay particular attention to the expectations of privacy for under sixteen's. Parental and child informed consent should normally be gained if a contributor is to be featured in our output in a way that would infringe their privacy.
Productions must consider whether it would be helpful to seek advice from an appropriately qualified professional, such as a child counsellor or psychologist - someone who doesn't have a vested interest in the child's participation - depending on the nature of the programme and the child contribution or role
On some projects it may be appropriate to seek professional advice during the selection process for actors or contributors, as a guide to whether a child has hidden vulnerabilities or is emotionally robust enough to cope with the proposed involvement.
In all cases it is very important to consider how the child's involvement in the programme might affect the individual, especially on sensitive or controversial projects. Think about their health, emotional and physical, background and educational circumstances.
With sensitive and controversial material, in addition to any expert opinion, it can be advisable to speak to the Head teacher of the child's school for an opinion, from someone who knows the child well, as to whether it could harm the child if they become involved or are identified in the project. If the child does take part and the Head teacher knows about it, the Head can also keep an eye out in case there are any issues post-transmission in the school environment.
There may be instances where, despite the fact the child and parent have given informed consent, it is not advisable for them to participate.
Different genres and formats present different challenges regarding duty of care to children.
Where a child is portrayed negatively in a factual or entertainment piece we need to think about filming their redemptive journey - if there is one. There may be some cases with no positive story to tell and we should consider whether it is in the interests of the child to broadcast them at all. The more constructed the format, the greater the responsibility we have to give a child the chance to redeem themselves in the story.
Clearly we must not mislead the audience - we should tell true stories - but we must not do this at the expense of the child. Their welfare is more important than making a film about them.
Where conflict or highly emotional situations may be involved, big surprises could cause harm or distress, especially in live or as live programmes. (An example might be where a child is unexpectedly reunited with an absent parent, live on air.)
Consider the impact on young actors and contributors of witnessing or participating in activities that might have a negative psychological effect on them. For example, think about the impact of a child actor on taking part in a murder scene or in dramas concerning paedophilia or prostitution. We have a duty to obtain children's informed consent but it is important to consider what details should be given to the child about the full nature of the drama and what language should be used to describe it, in order not to cause distress, yet allow them to make an informed decision. The age of the child and nature of the content must be considered. Think carefully about what is appropriate for a child to witness or participate in and what psychological repercussions this could have on the child. Young children have difficulty understanding what is "acting" and what is real.
To help a child actor differentiate between acting and real life it is useful to explain the technical aspects of how things are done. For example in an adult television drama where a child actor might witness some violence, you can show them that certain props are fake so that the actor is not hurt - anything to help them separate reality and artifice.
You should consider what repercussions there may be to a young actor in a strong drama after it is broadcast. For example, even if a drama transmits post-watershed, adults in the community may have seen it and rumour may filter down to their children who could bully the young actor at school. Don't forget to liaise with experts if appropriate and make sure the parents are fully aware of the content and have seen a script before agreeing to the child's participation. Keep them posted if things change materially between agreement and recording and recording and broadcast.
Another concern is where contributors or actors may emulate an activity which is controlled in a production but which in real life would be dangerous for them to participate in. A key concern for makers of content for children should be to avoid the dangers of imitative behaviour both for the contributor and the audience, particular with easily accessible objects, such as domestic ones.
Even if appropriate safety measures for contributors are in place, you must consider whether a child watching or listening on their own, without adult supervision, could easily copy the behaviour and harm themselves.
Children involved in competitions or game shows may become stressed or upset if not cared for appropriately, so you should make plans that minimise stress and support the contestants.
You should also consider how to make sure that the audience are aware that you have not been cavalier about the welfare of contributors or actors. For example, in editing entertainment programmes to give the impression of added jeopardy, it is easy to give the false impression that children have been put under extreme stress, which would be misleading to an audience. It may be appropriate to communicate to the audience that contributor's welfare has been safeguarded.
It is good practice, and in some sensitive or controversial cases strongly advisable, to document how children and young people are treated on a production as evidence of how they were treated. For example you can keep records of schedules and briefing letters, correspondence, concerns raised and addressed and procedures put in place.
Aftercare is important. If a child's contribution has evolved during post production, it may be advisable to let them know prior to transmission. Depending on the nature of the content and the child's involvement with it, it may be appropriate for a member of the team, preferably the main contact, to keep in touch with the contributor and their family to monitor any specific after-effects that might have resulted from the child's participation. However you should consider the consequences of continuing a relationship or communication beyond the recording/event. A vulnerable child/family may seek you out for further, ongoing, support which could place you in a difficult position. In some cases, providing access to sources of professional help or support may be advisable.
There may be some very sensitive content where it could be appropriate for the BBC to limit the period of time that the programme should be repeated for. However the contributor and their parents should be made aware that third party websites may reproduce our content globally without our knowledge or consent, so no guarantee can be given that a contribution will not be seen in particular countries.
Appropriate Behaviour with Children and Young People
We want the experience of working with the BBC to be a good one for children - to do otherwise could distress a child. In all dealings with young contributors and actors, clarity is key. Always make sure the child and parents understand what is planned (see "Informed Consent" above). Make sure the potential long-term consequences of participation are explained and never make promises that cannot be kept. Being clear about intentions is especially important on a long-term project, as you build up a working relationship with a family or child, especially if any of the contributors are vulnerable.
You also need to make it clear to external organisations what you expect from them, for example that you do not expect them to leave you unsupervised in a class of children. When visiting an external organisation that works with children, make sure you have suitable identification. A line manager should be aware of your visit, so that the organisation can check your authenticity, if they wish to.
You should think about appropriate behaviour with children, beginning at the research stage. Wherever possible liaise with the parents/school for contact information and use a BBC/Independent company contact address, email or phone number, especially for any contact with children. It is important to use an office number even if you normally use your own mobile for work calls. If for any reason you give out a mobile number, a senior member of the team should be notified and a record should be kept.
We normally aim to work with children in the presence of those responsible for their supervision, although circumstances may vary. It is sensible to provide a single, consistent point of contact on the production team, someone who can also oversee the contributor or actor's welfare throughout and with whom the participant and parents/guardian can liaise with throughout production.
When working with children or young people, avoid entering a room where they may be changing their clothes or not fully dressed. If it is vital to speak to the child, make sure another adult is present. Do not initiate physical contact - this can obviously be innocently intended but it can easily be misunderstood. However, if a child comes to you, or is in distress, act responsibly and in public.
If physical contact is necessary, for example by a make up artist or by a sound engineer attaching a radio microphone, ensure the child is accompanied by a guardian/chaperone and that doors are kept open. Where possible, you should be within the hearing of others. Any contact should also be age appropriate, you should ask the child's permission beforehand and explain what you want to do and why it is necessary.
A child should never be made to feel uncomfortable in any way. Make sure that the child and young person continues to feel comfortable with their participation throughout. You should respect their wishes if they change their mind. Never engage in or endorse any bullying or harassment of a child. Make sure you do not use inappropriate language in front of a child.
It is important that all production staff, crew and on screen talent are briefed appropriately so that they put the child's welfare first. In an adult drama, where there is strong language and action on set, make sure this does not spill over off set. (See also "The impact of a contribution" below)
Training should be given to staff who have little experience of working with children.
A child licence must be obtained for a child taking part in a performance for broadcast, when they of an age where they are still legally required to be at school.
Licensing is an important matter - not to license when required to do so, is a breach of the law.
BBC staff can check the check the guidelines for the licensing of children in productions here (Link only available to internal BBC users).
Independents should talk to their BBC Commissioning Editor if they have concerns about licensing.
Contributors with Disabilities and Vulnerable Contributors
The BBC can play a part, where appropriate, in providing positive role models of children with disabilities to those who have them. Children with disabilities who attend mainstream schools may rarely see other children with the same disability and positive portrayal can raise their self-esteem. It can also "normalise" the perception of the disability both to those with it and to other children.
Child contributors or actors who have disabilities and vulnerable contributors may have additional welfare requirements. It is important to contact relevant experts and organisations for advice and follow relevant protocols. Advice can also be sought from experts on the appropriate language when referring to a particular disability. For BBC staff the Diversity Centre can also offer advice on working with disabled contributors. See here (Link only available to internal BBC users).
BBC staff may be interested to know that BBC Children's has worked with the National Deaf Children's Society to produce guidelines for makers of children's output to ensure their content is accessible and inclusive of deaf children.
See here (Link only available to internal BBC users).