Like many I was pleased to see some effort made by Creative Scotland’s attempt to create a youth arts strategy.
However I was a little concerned when I was approached by a national newspaper a few weeks ago asking if I'd seen the Scottish Government's 'Getting it Right for Young Performers - National consultation on the arrangements for ensuring the wellbeing of children involved in performances'.
On reading the document it was clear that there seems to little understanding of what happens in the real world … most weeks of the year across the country involving young people in the amateur performing arts.
Those involved in the initial consultation presumably don't have experience in the not for profit/amateur world - a sector with hundreds of dance, musical and drama groups in Scotland.
|Centre Stage Theatre in Carlisle Train Station last weekend|
Whilst I applauded a revision of what's in place already, this new suggestion will create a mountain of paperwork, bureaucracy and obstacles for those working with young people.
The existing The Children (Performances) Regulations 1968 - That's the one where organisations have to get a licence for each young person if they perform for more than 3 days in a 6 month period. The licence as some of may know is a simple eleven page form that is sent with photographs and a medical certificate.
The 1968 regulations have been poorly implemented for years if at all in some cases.. and need to take the blame in some part for 16 year old and above age limits being introduced by groups denying younger people to experience the opportunity of performing in amateur shows.
In my experience amateur groups who work with young people take their welfare seriously. Our group for example has child protection policies and procedures, a team of chaperones – all enhanced disclosure checked. (we use the English recruitment guidelines – presently there don't seem to a Scottish equivalent) We are also a registered body with Disclosure Scotland and CRBS.
The English solution to the shortfalls of the 1968 regulations was to allow local authorities to adopt a 'body of persons' system. Essentially the local authorities would assess the group to its welfare provision and the organisations would record themselves the time the young person performed within the scope of the regulations. The local authorities no longer have to process licences and the responsibility would be with the organisation to comply.
For example embracing the 'body of persons' system in Cumbria made the process easier and accountable. However in Dumfries & Galloway and many parts of Scotland don’t allow for a ‘a body of persons’ to be implemented.
So to the latest proposals.
Licences are required to be granted in respect of the following performances by children under school leaving age:
Any performance being made to a paying audience.
Any performance taking place in premises licensed to sell alcohol.
Appearing in public broadcast material or material filmed for the purpose of future public broadcast.
There are a limited number of exceptions, meaning that licences need not be sought for the above performances where:
No payment is being made to the child (other than to cover their expenses)
and they have not taken part in a licensable performance (as defined above) on more than three other days in the last six months.
A Body of Persons Approval has been granted in respect of the performance.
The performance is given under arrangements made by a school.
Taking these into account it means the new system could have a major impact on the activities of amateur performing arts.
The new suggestions recommend a system to register chaperones with the local authority which I welcome however the requirements that they place on potential chaperones could put off many capable volunteers for becoming one.
I do hope the the Scottish Government reflect on how to effectively protect the well being of young people participating in the performing arts and work with organisations who provide them with the experience..
It would be a retrograde step if there were less opportunities for young people due to further bureaucracy that doesn't actually protect young people but just creates further regulations – at worst it'll be a reworking of the 1968 regulations and be largely ignored.
The not for profit/voluntary/amateur arts sector isn't normally vocal in the arts world and often our voice is rarely heard. However, I believe there is an opportunity for the arts world to engage with elected representatives and understand what is needed to streamline the provision of performing arts for young people.
Chris Jones – Centre Stage Youth Theatre