Parents, Producers, Unions Voice Opposition to Proposed N.Y. Child Performer Rules
Kelly Crisp was on set with her son Toliver when she got a call from his manager. Toliver was shooting a Spike Lee-directed anti-smoking public service announcement. The boy's manager called to tell Crisp about an e-mail he had just received from Anne Henry, co-founder of the activist group BizParents.org, regarding a new set of regulations for child performers proposed by the New York State Department of Labor. Crisp, a former public prosecutor and professional mediator, returned home and found the same e-mail waiting in her inbox. After reading the new regulations, she was appalled. A month later she founded her own advocacy organization, Child Performers Coalition, with the intent to persuade the Department of Labor to table its proposal.
"I don't see any of the provisions favoring productions or performers, save a couple of them," Crisp said. "There are a couple of production-friendly provisions, and there really are no child-friendly provisions."
Crisp is not alone in her opinion. At a Jan. 10 public hearing in New York City, she was among a host of production and labor representatives, agents, managers, and parents who took turns bashing the Labor Department for what they characterized as a bungled process that has yielded a set of regulations that endangers New York's entertainment industry and the welfare of its child performers.
The Department of Labor's proposal would amend the 2003 Child Performer Education and Trust Act, which the department is charged with enforcing. Regulations regarding health screenings, work hours, and classroom time for children would become much stricter. But opponents charge that stricter regulations do not necessarily mean better regulations. Speaking at the Jan. 10 hearing, Crisp attacked multiple points of the proposal. But the rule she decried as one "that will make New York the most dangerous place in the country for children to work" has to do with so-called "sight and sound" access.
Under Screen Actors Guild guidelines, parents are encouraged to stay within visual and audible range of their children at all times on set. The Labor Department's new rule would require that employers provide sight-and-sound access only to parents of children age 5 or younger. For children older than 5, the employer would have to appoint a "responsible adult" to shadow the child on set but could block access to parents. The chaperone would not be subject to any qualification barriers or background screenings.
"I prosecuted child sex offenders," Crisp said at the hearing. "The consequences will be devastating, and I cannot stress this enough. Pedophiles need access to children to satisfy a basic instinct, the need to have sex. Pedophiles love child performers, and now an unvetted, employer-selected 'responsible person' will have unlimited, unsupervised access to kids."