Pre-Production

The Comprehensive Guide to Child Actor Laws by State

Assemble

By Assemble

October 27, 2021

History of Child Actor Laws

At a “roast” dinner for comedian W. C. Fields at the Masquer’s Club in Hollywood in 1939, the writer Leo Rosten said, “The only thing I can say about W. C. Fields is this, any man who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad.” This joke, recounted in his book, The Power of Positive Nonsense, reflects an oft quoted quip from Fields to “never work with children or animals' presumably because they steal scenes.  However, what is troublingly true about that time period is that the stealing off screen was happening to the child actors themselves.

Hollywood had many bankable child stars who lost fortunes in the 1930’s including Judy Garland, Shirley Temple and arguably its greatest child actor, Jackie Coogan. Coogan was discovered by silent film star Charlie Chaplin after a period of emotional and artistic turmoil for the comic genius. His wife had given birth to a boy with a structural birth defect who died. After a period of grief, his trauma gave way to a creative boom with an idea for his little tramp character becoming a surrogate father to an abandoned child. He found his perfect partner in 4-year-old Coogan. By chance, Chaplin had been watching a music hall performance featuring Coogan’s father who brought his precocious son onstage at the close of the show. Chaplin was charmed and a star was born.

The film, The Kid, was a huge success and Coogan became a world celebrity.  He worked non-stop as a child actor and amassed a substantial fortune.  However as a young adult he discovered that his mother and new step-father had mismanaged his earnings and he was left penniless. Under California law at the time, the earnings of the minor belonged solely to the parent. 

As a result of the publicity of his situation, in 1939, a child labor law was put into effect, to protect future child entertainment performers. As it was inspired by his terrible situation, this legislation was called “The Coogan Law”.

Child Actor Laws

As a producer, knowing the labor standards that protect children in the industry is paramount when considering hiring a child actor for a production. The Coogan Law involves financial protections, but you also need to know the specific labor conditions put in place to protect a child’s well being and safety on set. 

The first thing to do is define a child, which you might feel is self-evident.  However when you think of a child actor, you may be thinking of someone very young, but generally in most states anyone under the age of eighteen is considered a child under the law and therefore subject to specific considerations. There are exceptions in child actor laws. For clarity, below is a handy table of child entertainment provisions by state provided by the US government.

Child Entertainment Provisions by State

State

Regulates Child Entertainment?

Work Permit Required?

Law & Comments

Alabama

Yes

No

25-8-60 For child actors and performers, no employment or age certificate required for persons under age 18.

Alaska

Yes

Yes

Extensive requirements for theatrical employment. 8 AAC 05.300 requires any child under 18 employed in the entertainment industry to have a work permit. Regulations also establish hours of work, working conditions, and prohibited practices. A waiver is available from the Studio Teacher requirement if it can be shown that the working conditions are safe for the minor child.

Arizona

No

No

Sec. 23-235  - Minors employed as stars or performers in motion picture, theatrical, radio or television productions are exempt from the law governing persons under the age of 16 if before the beginning of production, the production company provides the Department of Labor with the name and address of the person, the length, location and hours of employment and any other information required by the Department.

Arkansas

Yes

Yes

11-12-104  -  A child under 16 employed in the entertainment industry must have a permit and the written consent of a parent or guardian for issuance of the permit; written statement from principal as to academic standing of child;

California

Yes

Yes

Extensive requirements for theatrical employment: The Labor Commissioner issues permits to minors to work in the entertainment industry with required documentation from appropriate school districts as applicable and/or permits permitting employment of minors in the entertainment industry.

Sec. 6-1308.7  -  Work permit to work not more than 5 consecutive days in the entertainment or allied industries; excused from school for up to 5 absences per school year; school districts are to allow pupils to complete all assignments and tests missed during absence.

Sec. 6750 Family Code - Courts may require a portion of earnings be set aside for the minor in a trust.

Colorado

Yes

No

C.R.S. 8-12-101 et. seq., regulates the employment of minors in Colorado. Colorado law provides for some exemptions from youth employment relating to, e.g., actors, models, and performers.

Connecticut

Yes

No

Sec. 31-23  -  Minors under the age of 16 are permitted to work in the theatrical industry with the authorization of the labor commissioner. Must have a certificate of age.

Delaware

Yes

Yes

Sec. 508  - Special permit issued by the Department of Labor allows children under age 16 to be employed in the entertainment industry for a limited time.

Florida

Yes

Yes

450.132  -  Employers or agents must make an application to the Division and notify the Division showing the date, number of days, location, and date of termination of the work performed by minors in the entertainment industry.

Georgia

Yes

Yes

39-2-18  - For minors employed in the entertainment industry a permit is required. The Commissioner of Labor must give written consent.

Hawaii

Yes

Yes

Sec. 12-25-22  -  Minors under the age of 14 may be permitted to work in theatrical employment with written consent filed with the director by guardian or parent; certificate is kept on file by the employer. Sec 12-25-23 establishes limits on daily and night work hours.

Idaho

Yes

No

Sec. 44-1305 - Prohibits children under the age of 16 from certain entertainment activities.

Illinois

Yes

Yes

Sec. 205/8, 8.1  - Minors under the age of 16 appearing in theatrical productions must have a certificate authorized by the superintendent of schools; minors employed in the entertainment industry may be employed subject to conditions imposed by DOL.

Indiana

Yes

No

Sec. 20-8.1-4-21.5  -  No certificate required but there are other conditions: must not be detrimental to welfare of child; provisions must be made for education for children under age 16; minor under age 16 must be accompanied by parent or guardian at rehearsal, appearances, and performances; employment cannot be in cabaret, dance hall, night club, etc.

Iowa

Yes

No

Sec. 92.17 - Children under age 16 may be employed as models, outside of school hours, for up to 3 hours a day between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., not exceeding 12 hours in a month, with parental permission. Special order-issued by Labor Commissioner, to exempt from restrictions any child employed as a performer.

Kansas

No

No

Sec. 38-614 and 616 - Children employed in the entertainment industry are exempt from child labor requirements, except that infants under one month must have written certification from a licensed physician stating that they are at least 15 days old and that they are physically capable of handling the work. Sec. 38-622 - Rules and regulations may be adopted setting standards for minor children on motion picture sets. Sec.21-3604 - Courts may require a portion of earnings be set aside for the minor in a trust.

Kentucky

No

No

Sec. 339.210 - Children employed in the entertainment industry are exempt from child labor requirements.

Louisiana

Yes

Yes

Sec. 253  -  Minors under the age of 16 must have a permit issued by state DOL to participate in employment in the entertainment industry.

Maine

No

Yes

Title 26 Sec. 773 to 775 - Minors under age 16 working as theatrical or film actors are exempt from the child labor law except that they must have work permits. No restrictions at ages 16 & 17.

Maryland

Yes

Yes

Sec.3-207 (a) - Special permit must be issued by the labor commissioner. The permit must be signed and notarized by parent or guardian and employer.

Massachusetts

Yes

Yes

Chap. 149, Sec. 60 - Minors under the age of 16 may take part on the stage in a theater where not more than 2 performances are given in one day and not more than 8 performances are given in any one week with written permission from the attorney general. The Attorney General's Office has the authority to issue temporary waivers of time restrictions for children working in entertainment, theater or film (M.G.L. c. 149, § 60 & M.G.L. c. 149, § 104.)

Michigan

Yes

Yes

Application for Performing Arts Authorization form must be approved by the Michigan Dept. of Labor and Economic Opportunity for ages 15 days to 17 years.

Minnesota

Yes

Yes

181A.07. Exemptions-Minors are subject to the child labor law except for the minimum age provisions. The labor Commissioner may issue waivers from the hours limitations.

Mississippi

No

No

 

Missouri

Yes

Yes-for under 16

Sec. 294.022 and 294.030 - Need: proof of age, written parental consent and written statement of employer stating nature and duration of job. Waivers of time and hour restrictions may be issued by the director of the division of labor standards.

Montana

No

No

41-2-104  - All minors, regardless of age may be employed as an actor, model or performer

Nebraska

Yes

Yes - Special permit for a child

Special permit-issued by Dept. of Labor, to exempt from restrictions any child employed as a performer. Need: written parental consent.

Nevada

No

No

Ch. 392 - Casinos or resort hotels employing minors in the entertainment industry for more than 91 school days must, upon request, pay for tutoring or other equivalent educational services. Ch. 609 - Courts may require a portion of earnings be set aside for the minor in a trust.

New Hampshire

No

No

 

New Jersey

Yes

Yes  -  For under 16

Sec. 34:2-21.59 - Need: parental consent, good health, workplace approved by DOL, minor under direct care of an adult named in application, not attending public school, receiving approved instruction, and not during summer vacation. Number of performances and hours permitted are specified.

New Mexico

Yes

Yes

A work permit is required at all times when employing children under the age of sixteen issued only by the school superintendents, school principals, other appropriate school officers or the director of the labor and industrial division. The work must also be certified as not dangerous to the child or prohibited as outlined in the FLSA hazardous list. The maximum number of hours allowed for children under the age of sixteen to work is 18 hours a week during the school week and 40 hours a week in non-school weeks.

With respect to employing and protecting child performers in the entertainment industry, including motion pictures, theatrical, radio, and television productions, employers are required to follow educational and safety requirements and they are responsible for obtaining a Pre-Authorization Certificate for any child performing under the age of 18 before the employment begins. The certificate is valid for one year or until the specific project is completed, whichever time period is shorter. The employer must provide a certified teacher for each group of 10 or fewer children and must provide a New Mexico certified trainer or technician at the place of employment at all times when a child performer may be exposed to potentially hazardous conditions.

The statutes governing child entertainment within New Mexico can be found at the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions – Child Labor Section - 11.1.4.10 – 11.1.4.14.

New York

Yes

Yes  -  Models under 18 need permit from educational authorities /   Performer 16-17 needs employment certificate  /   performers under 16 need permit from mayor or chief executive

To obtain certificates and permits need: written parental consent (exceptions for emancipated children), proof of age, and a certificate of physical fitness; separate procedures are in effect for New York City and for the remainder of the State. Sec. 7-7.1 Estates, Powers and Trusts Law - Courts may require a portion of earnings be set aside for the minor in a trust.

North Carolina

Yes

Yes  - For under 18 need Youth Employment Certificate from county social services

To obtain a certificate you need: proof of age.

Sec. 48A-13 - Courts may require a portion of earnings be set aside for the minor in a trust.

North Dakota

Yes

Yes -  For under 16 need parental permit and commissioner of labor permit

Permits issued if the appearance of such minors will not be detrimental to the minor’s morals, health, safety, welfare, or education.

Ohio

No

No - Performers need parental consent

Performers must be without remuneration and performance must be given by a church, school, academy; or at a concert or entertainment given solely for charitable purposes or religious institution.

Oklahoma

No

No

Minors who entertain are exempt from all laws because they are considered independent employees with agents.

Oregon

Yes

Yes  - Employer must register with the Bureau of Labor for jobs of short duration (5 or fewer days)  - Babies under 15 days can’t work; longer duration - minors 14-17 need work permits  /  under 14 need special permit from Bureau of Labor and Industries

To obtain work permits need: parental and minor’s signature and social security number and proof of age.

Pennsylvania

Yes

Yes  -  Minors 7 to under 18 need special permits from Dept. of Labor and Industry, and can’t work where there is alcohol.

To obtain special permits need: application signed by parent and employer, and with the seal of notary. Includes provisions for educational instruction, supervision, health, welfare, and the safeguarding and conservation for the minor of the monies derived from such performances

Rhode Island

No

No

With one exception, the state doesn’t regulate such employment because entertainers are not employees on a payroll, but are rather independent employees with agents. Therefore regulation is left up to the localities. The state does not permit minors under the age of 18 to work in commercial adult entertainment establishments.

South Carolina

No

No

71-3105-d  -  The provisions of this Article do not apply with respect to any employee engaged as an actor or performer in motion pictures; radio or television productions, or theatrical productions.

South Dakota

No

No

60-12-1  -  The provisions of this section do not apply to children employed as actors or performers in motion pictures, theatrical, radio, or television productions.

Tennessee

No

No

50-5-107  -  The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to any minor who is a musician or entertainer; Minors under 16 may model.

Sec. 50-5-201 -  Courts may require a portion of earnings be set aside for the minor in a trust.

Texas

Yes

No

Minors under 14 need to submit an application for authorization signed by agency and parent, proof of age and a photograph. 13-5(H)-902 & 904. Contracts limited to no more than 7 years. Courts may require a portion of earnings be set aside for the minor in a trust.

Utah

No

No

 

Vermont

Yes

Yes-Minors under 16 need a certificate from the Commissioner of Labor and Industry except for certain work done outside of school hours.

To obtain a certificate need: written parental consent, Commissioner of Labor and Industry consent, proof of age and school record. Children employed as actors or performers in motion pictures, theatrical productions, radio, or television, or employed as a baseball bat girl or bat boy may be employed until midnight or after midnight if a parent or guardian and the commissioner of labor have consented in writing.

Virginia

Yes

Yes  - Work permits for minors under the age of 16 for theater or other public place where a performance, concert, commercial presentation or entertainment is to take place No such Permit is required for any nonprofit dance, or music recital or noncommercial television or radio broadcast. Non-profit schools of performing arts are not required to obtain Theatrical Permits for performances related to classes.

Child labor provisions do not apply to children employed as actors or performers in motion pictures, theatrical, radio, or television productions. To obtain a permit: a Permission for Employment form must be completed by the youth's parent, guardian, or custodian and signed before a Notary Public and an Intent to Employ form must be completed by the employer. The youth must furnish a copy of an acceptable evidence of age document. The employer must retain and certify to the Labor and Employment Law Division the legal age for employment.

Washington

Yes

Yes  - Work permit for all minors issued by Dept. of Labor.

Work permits required for all minors employed as actors or performers in film, video, audio, or theatrical productions.

West Virginia

No

No

Minors of any age may be legally employed without a permit or certificate in acting or performing in motion pictures, theatrical, radio or television productions.

Wisconsin

No

No  -  Employment can’t be in a roadhouse, cabaret, dance hall, night club, tavern or other similar place.

No work permits needed between 12 and 18 for public entertainment. Nothing contained in ss. 103. 64 to 103. 82 shall be construed as forbidding any minor under 18 to appear for the purpose of singing, playing or performing in any studio, circus, theatrical or musical exhibition, concert or festival, in radio and television broadcasts, or as a live or photographic model.

Wyoming

Yes

No

Minors of any age may perform in radio, TV, movie or theatrical productions. Under 16 can be actors or performers in any concert hall or room where there is no alcohol or malt present. Also under 16 must entertain for charity and in a reputable place.

Let’s break down the labor laws you’ll need to adhere to when working with a child actor.

As you can see from the chart above, they do vary per state somewhat, so it’s important to check the child entertainment provisions for the state you will be filming in for definitive rules and regulations.

Work Permit

Since Hollywood is the hub of the entertainment industry, we’ll use the Entertainment Permit to employ minors and the California minor actor work permit as an example. To be clear, the minor actor’s work permit is not the producer’s responsibility, it’s the parent or guardian’s, however you do need to confirm the child actor does have a permit before hiring them for any production.

To obtain the Entertainment Permit to employ minors, here are the steps to register:

 

The permit will only be issued when a complete application, including a valid worker’s compensation insurance certificate, is received. A renewal application should be submitted 30 to 60 days prior to the expiration of your permit. There are no fees associated with this permit.

For the minor actor’s work permit, this is the information they will provide and you should confirm:

  • Name, address and age

  • School Record of attendance, academics and health

  • Statement and signature of parent or guardian (note that only one parent’s signature is required, but it’s a good idea to get both parents signature to avoid conflicts of interest)
  • Sexual Harassment Prevention Training requirement completed

  • Requirements for school age children (grades 1 - 12)

    • Public/  Private school, on-line and virtual academy: When school is IN session, the application must be completed and dated during the current school session by an authorized school official. When school is NOT in session (i.e., school break, vacations, holidays), either the minor’s recent report card or letter from the school principal on school letterhead indicating that the minor is “satisfactory” in all academic subjects, health and attendance is required.

    • Homeschool, on-line and virtual academy: If minor is homeschooled, the application must be completed by the parent/guardian and attached to either a current private school affidavit, or written verification indicating that the minor is “satisfactory” in all academic subjects, health and attendance from either the local school district, county office of education or state board of education where the minor lives.

  • Requirements for non-school age children (15 days through kindergarten). 

    • Photocopy of one of the following:
      • Certified Birth Certificate

      • Baptismal Certificate

      • Official letter from hospital where born

      • Passport

 

Child Labor Laws

There are federal regulations regarding child labor that often defers to state law.  California for example, has a child labor law pamphlet that specifically addresses entertainment industry child law. It addresses the following requirements:

  • Work hours while school is in session by age of performer.

  • Work hours while school is not in session by age of performer.

  • Concurrent requirements depending on age for parent  / guardian present, studio teacher and nurse (if performer is 6 weeks to 6 months old).

  • No minor may be employed over 8 hours in a day or over 48 hours in a week. No exceptions.

  • Meal periods are not work time. Workdays extended up to one-half hour for a meal period. Meals must be within 6 hours of call time and/or previous meal period. Teachers may require an earlier meal period.

  • Travel between studio and location is work time. Up to 45 minutes travel from on-location, overnight lodging to work site is not generally considered work time. Travel between school or home and studio is not work time. 

  • 12 hours must elapse between dismissal and next day's call time. No exceptions. 

  • Make-up in a minor's home by persons employed on the same project is work time, and may not begin before 8:30am. 12 hours must elapse between dismissal and the beginning of the next day's make-up  /  hairdressing.

Coogan Law

As mentioned earlier, California enacted financial protection of child actors' assets by requiring blocked trust accounts or Coogan accounts. At present, five states have trust account requirements: California, New York, Illinois, Louisiana and New Mexico.

What this means is that in these states, the parent will have to supply proof of a trust account prior to receiving a work permit. 15 percent of the minor’s gross wages are required to be withheld by the employer and deposited into the Coogan account within 15 days of employment. The parent must supply the Coogan account number to the employer.

Here are the regional details as provided by SAG-AFTRA:

  • California: Parents in CA are required to open a “Coogan” Account and it must be opened with a CA bank. A Coogan Account is a special blocked trust fund account found at a bank, credit union or brokerage firm.

  • New York: Parents in NY are required to open up an UTMA or UGMA compliant trust account. This account is similar to the “Coogan,” but does not differ regarding rules of withdrawal. The account may be opened with any bank, in any state, as long as it meets UTMA or UGMA requirements.

  • Illinois: Parents of children working in IL are required to open a Blocked Trust Account with any bank, in any state. A trust account must provide, at a minimum, that at least 15% of the gross earnings of the child performer shall be deposited into the account. This does not apply to Background Performers. Please visit the Illinois General Assembly's website here for more information.

  • Louisiana and New Mexico: Parents in LA are required to open a Blocked Trust Account with any bank, in any state. Parents in New Mexico are required to open a blocked trust account only if their child earns more than $1000 per each employment contract.

 

Checklist for Hiring a Child Actor

We just hit you with a ton of information and it might be overwhelming to absorb!  Bottom line is federal regulations often defer to state law, so the first thing you should do is go to the state website in which you are filming. Kids casting has a wonderful list of relevant websites per state with local child labor laws and permits needed.  

Here are suggestions from child advocates Bizparentz foundation of what to address in pre-production when it comes to hiring child actors:

  1. Determine which state laws you are working under. It may be more than one. For example if you are casting out of California, but you are filming in New Mexico.

  2. Determine the appropriate union. Child actors must join unions too and if your production is signatory to SAG-AFTRA, you must follow the rest of SAG-AFTRA’s rates and regulations when it comes to employment.

  3. Determine how old the child you need really is, not how old the character is. Both laws and union regulations vary by age. Many producers find that they can save significant time and money by hiring children that are slightly older, buying them another hour or two of shooting time each day, or avoiding the required three hours of school time by using an actor who qualifies as 18 To Play Younger or “18TPY”.

  4. Plan to get the appropriate permits. In some states, the child work permit and the employer permit are BOTH obtained from the Department of Labor by the employer.  These things take time. Do not wait until the day before the child arrives on set to handle it.

  5. Do not cast based on social media and do not expect children to promote your film on their social media accounts. Kids are not even legally allowed to be on social media until age 13 (COPPA LAWS).

  6. Decide who else you need to hire. In California, you may need a uniquely state-licensed studio teacher  / welfare worker, but in New York it could only be a wrangler (different qualifications). In some states, a parent is acceptable, but you will need to budget for per diem and travel for them.

  7. Plan to keep kids safe, no matter how inconvenient. For example, a parent should ALWAYS be within sight and sound of their child. Yes, it is an additional warm body on set, but if space is a problem you will need to find a tech answer, such as a live stream nearby.  Another non-negotiable?  Work hours. Do not exceed work hours for children. These things will protect your insurance and your liability. 

  8. Be aware that the child’s money is protected and check with your payroll company. In most states, and in union projects, a trust account is required for child actors.  Notify your AD and your payroll company that there is a child working on set and that there will be a trust account deposit. Your payroll company likely has procedures specific to Coogan.

  9. Double check the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Bulletins - several are specific to child actors. These are agreed upon safety industry norms in the motion picture industry for physical safety. If you have an on-set accident, or were to get sued later, there is no doubt these bulletins would be brought into evidence. They cover things like working with animals, stunts, vehicles, weapons, excessive heat and cold and more.  

Hiring the Child Actor Wrap Up

Working with child actors comes down to two things really; safety and security. Do your due diligence in pre-production, get all the permits needed and adhere to all that the law requires related to work hours, guardianship, safety and financial stewardship and your production should run as smoothly as child’s play.


 

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