There is no legislation which covers the specific process of interviewing children and holding and using information about them. The Children Act 1989 states that children’s wishes and feelings should be incorporated into decision-making about them.
Case law has established that children under 16 with sufficient understanding may consent to medical treatment even if their parents do not, and this is taken to apply to other forms of activity. Guidelines produced for professionals in related areas can indicate the consensus on best practice. These include (for links see ‘Further Reading’):
- the Press Complaints Commission (no interviewing children under 16 without parents’ or guardians’ consent);
- the Market Research Society (parents or guardians should be consulted before approaching a child under 16 to ask permission to interview);
- the British Sociological Association (the child’s as well as parental or guardians’ consent should be obtained and information must be provided in a form that the child can understand);
- the National Children’s Bureau (giving children a strong voice in matters that affect their lives); and
- the Social Research Association (protecting subjects from harm).
Children are the initial owners of the copyright in their words in the same way as adults, though any formal copyright licence should also be signed by the parent or guardian until the child is 18. Any child who is able to understand his or her actions should sign a recording agreement. Agreements relating to interviews with children under 16 should be signed by a parent or guardian, but may be legally invalid unless also signed by the child.
The Oral History Society strongly advises that:
- the purpose of or framework within which interviews with children are carried out should be clearly established in advance, if necessary with appropriate professional guidance. These terms of reference should be available in writing to parents, guardians, teachers, or others with a legitimate interest;
- children under 16 should not be approached or interviewed without the consent of a parent or guardian;
- consent forms relating to interviews with under-16s should be agreed and signed by both the interviewee and a parent or guardian (there is an example here); and
- all access to records of interviews with individual children under 16, particularly before these children have reached adulthood, should be carefully considered and regulated. Any form of publication or inclusion in a website is not recommended, and should never be undertaken without explicit written consent from both the child and a parent or guardian.
The Society encourages teachers to introduce children to oral history techniques. However the permission of a parent or guardian is required before any interview material featuring children at school is made available or disseminated beyond the classroom.
The UK Data Archive offers additional useful information about this area.