Is it safe to use photos of children on crochet and knitting patterns? 6 Tips for good practice.

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When is it safe to include photos of children on patterns for knitting,  crochet, or sewing? This blog gives 6 tips for good practice for knitting and crochet designers in safely working with child models.

When is it safe to use a photo of a child?

In this blog post, I will explore the key risks that might arise when putting a child’s image on a pattern, or anywhere in public and online. I will also look at how these risks can be managed, and what can be done to protect our children.

A couple of weeks ago I was doing a photo shoot involving a child. So of course I looked up what information I could find, and discovered several helpful policy documents relevant to the UK or Ireland, as well as some more international ones. But nothing specific to knitting or crochet. So it was challenging to drill down to the simple safety tips I needed. In this blog I have pulled together the best information so as to create a usable checklist for anyone wanting to include photos of children on patterns.

But first, a disclaimer, and a brief bit about me:

This blog post is written for general information. If in doubt, consult a professional!

Let me repeat, as it’s very important. If you have a specific legal concern, you need to consult a lawyer. If you have a specific child welfare concern you need to consult a registered professional. In the UK that can be any employee of the NHS. If you live in Ireland, you need to contact Tusla. In other countries there will be specific procedures to follow relevant to that country.

I am writing this post as a knitting and crochet designer who loves to design kids clothes. My background is as a community development worker who ran family centres for several years. Then, I taught childhood studies at university for the following 12 years. Many years of my life have therefore been spent studying, interpreting and teaching about government policies on child protection and child welfare. So, I see myself as somewhat qualified to write this blog post. But I reiterate again it does not represent legal advice. It represents a discussion of best practice and a starting point for a person with a small crochet or knitting business to feel safe using a picture of their child. It is not designed to answer specific concerns, for that you need to consult an appropriate registered professional.

Tip 1. No Names! Don’t include any details about the child in the photo

Think Data Protection, and keep the child anonymous.

Don’t include the children’s names, ages, locations, relationship to you, or any other details about them.

Danger: ‘Groomers’ in search of children

Sadly, there is no getting away from the fact that there are a few really bad people out there. Specific individuals will target children, and develop a friendship with them They do this in order to manipulate them into abusive situations.

Solution: The key here is data. Seeing a picture of a child online doesn’t help a groomer in any way. What they want are contact details, so they can get in touch with that child. And they don’t need a lot of information.

Pretend I had a nephew called Sean. (I don’t). And pretend I posted a picture with the caption ‘my lovely 9 year old nephew Sean’. A groomer knows my name. So they have a strong guess at my nephew’s second name. A trawl through my Facebook feed will probably give clues as to in-law family names, and locations. Soon enough, the groomer has the child’s full name, age and the area they live in. Now they can get in contact.

If I had posted the same picture with a caption that said ‘my recent pattern, modelled by a wonderful young man’ the groomer has nothing to go on.

Groomers are looking for data, not pictures! To keep children safe on line, the first golden rule is to keep them anonymous. 

Don’t provide names of the children in your photos, and don’t provide nicknames either. Talk about the pattern, not the child. The reason you are putting out the picture is because of the lovely new hat design you created, so that is what you talk about.

This includes not mentioning that they are your own child. Some will feel that this justifies the use of the photo by demonstrating the ‘right’ to do so. ‘This is MY child, so I have the right to use this photo’. But it tells a groomer where to look for that child. Don’t mention anything that identifies the child. Say things like ‘look how happy the lovely model is’ and ‘many thanks to my wonderful model’ but don’t give any clue to their identity.

Tip Two: get consent from everyone involved, and use positive images only

Only use images the child can show in a future job Interview.

Danger: distress or embarrassment to the child now or in the future

Solution: checking that everyone agrees at all stages, and are happy to proceed, as well as ‘future proofing’ the pictures.

“Adults who work with children and young people … have a duty of care to ensure that the children or young people are not exposed to harm, including exploitation, embarrassment or distress” (arts council, p3)

Just like adults, some kids love trying on new clothes and having their photos taken, but some kids hate it. We see lots of anxiety about children’s images put up on line, but we also see a huge amount of very personal images. Parents showing their autistic kids meltdown in full flow, all over social media. It’s like they forget that everything online is there forever, and one day that child might not be at all happy for that image of themselves to be a permanent part of the internet. When using children to promote knitting, crochet or sewing patterns it’s important to strike a balance. This involves:

  1. Use positive happy images only. It might be funny to have pictures of your kids throwing tantrums, splashing in the bathtub naked and in other compromising positions. But such pictures are best kept private. It’s funny to pull them out in years to come and show future boyfriends and girlfriends. It’s not funny to make them public. When taking photos of a child that’s currently five, have a mental image of them at 15, 10 years from now. If there is any risk that 15 year old might find the photo ‘cringe’ DON’T USE IT. Or that 25 year old child might not want a future employer to see it ABSOLUTELY DON’T USE IT.
  2. Ask the child! That includes children of all ages. The smallest baby can show us when they are happy with an activity, and any child that can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ can give a basic form of consent. Every child is on a unique developmental path, so the photographer needs to base how much consent of what type is relevant to THAT child. But certainly, if a child is over five, I give a full explanation of what I want, and how I will use the photos. I sit with them, show them my ravelry account, instagram and pinterest accounts. I find kids love the attention, it’s like story time for them, poking through your pinterest on your ipad, asking about different pictures. And some will say ‘No’. They find the idea of being up there too, where they can be seen by anyone, embarrassing. Don’t try to persuade, don’t try to change minds. Manipulated consent is not consent. You have other nieces, nephews, neighbours, children in your life. Another kid will love to do it. Accept graciously the child that doesn’t. 
  3. Images should only be put to the agreed use. Did you ask for a pattern photo, and forgot to mention you would also do an instagram reel? Don’t make the reel until you go back and check with the child. With adults I assume a lot more consent, and say something about ‘social media’. With kids you need to be clear about everywhere the picture might go.
  4. What if I snap a perfect photo in an unplanned manner? This happens. You get the perfect shot, but it wasn’t part of a planned photo shoot. It’s Ok to get consent after the fact, as long as you do get consent.

Meanwhile, for anyone under 18, don’t forget you need consent from a parent/guardian as well as the child. This isn’t usually a problem. Most parents are flattered and happy that you think their lovely little one is perfect for a photo. Children I’ve asked have said ‘no’ to me, but never a parent. You still need to ask, and get it in text while you are at it. (an email is perfect). Also, remember if the parent says yes, but the child says No, that’s still a no.

Tip 3. Wearing appropriate clothes in the photos

Children should be fully clothed.

Group photos if possible.

Play activities.

“It is preferable to use images that depict an activity or group context, rather than a particular child” (arts council, p10)

Danger: People who want photos of children to manipulate and create inappropriate images from.

Solution: Make sure the child is wearing appropriate clothes, and with an appropriate background. Children should be in groups if possible, and engaged in an activity.

A photo of a partially clothed child sitting still is easy to manipulate. It can be altered to an inappropriate context. A photo of 2 or more kids actively playing – cycling bikes, skateboarding, jumping off picnic benches as in the photo above – are not easy to manipulate. The Bad Guy will move along to lower hanging fruit.

Always take photos of kids doing something, avoid pictures of them sitting posing, as this helps ensure no one can do things they shouldn’t with the pictures. I’m not great at the second part of the tip, as it involves much more knitting and crocheting which is time consuming – but all the experts recommend group photos over individual ones, as they just can’t be manipulated with pornographic intent in the same way. In future I hope to make 2 samples of my kids designs, and look for 2 models at a time, as the experts tell me that is far safer.

Tip 4. Keep everything fun

Keep Everything Fun.

And be aware of child labour regulations where you live.

Danger: Too much work, not enough play

Solution: Balance work with play, keep everything fun, and be aware of child labour regulations where you live

Child modelling is a form of child labour. It is recognised as such within the wider industries of fashion and entertainment. It is also covered by some quite strict regulations in most western countries. For good reason. It is fairly universal to ‘pay’ child models in gifts – they get to keep the garment they modelled. Or they get a toy as thanks. If anyone gets paid it’s the parent to other adult who chaperoned. This is how most knitting and crochet designers work, and happens in other settings where child models work too. It’s a practical way of not needing to fill in endless paperwork to register as someone employing a child. But it doesn’t resolve us of our responsibilities to make sure we are behaving in ethical and responsible ways when asking children to model for us.

What should children be doing? In a healthy society, children’s main occupation should be play. It’s where they learn fastest, and develop best habits for future mental and physical health. Education comes next. Kids need to be in school (or home schooled, but some form of education). But should they ever work? Its good for kids go help out with chores, or with family enterprises. For a long time we have known that children who have reasonable, age appropriate chores do better in school, have better mental health, and more secure attachments to parents and carers. If someone in the family is writing patterns, or has some other craft business, its not just OK, its actively good for children in the family to see themselves as an important part of that enterprise, with a role to play.

However, when involving our kids in our businesses, we should always keep it fun. This is how we build strong work ethics in our kids. by showing them that work is something fun and enjoyable and wonderful, as well as productive and satisfying. In short, it’s fine to ask a child to model, but the responsibility falls on you to ensure they enjoy every minute of it. And work should never come at a cost of time to play or time in school, obviously.

It’s also vitally important that you check the child labour regulations where you live. They can be different in different countries, and important not to breach the law when asking a child to work.

Tip 5: Children are children. Adults are over 18. Don’t forget to apply these tips with tweens and teens too

‘Children’ are under 18. Not just babies.

Don’t forget the older kids, teens and young people. In many ways, they are MOST at risk and need our protection.

Danger: Tweens, teens and young people having their needs ignored

Solution: Don’t forget that older kids are still kids.

I saw a daft situation play out in a crochet Facebook group. A lovely woman was deeply upset when she was expelled from the group she was very attached to. Expelled for the crime of posting a picture of her newborn grandchild, wrapped up in a blanket she had lovingly crocheted for them. With one sweeping action she was kicked out without right of appeal for posting a picture that showed a child’s face, when that ‘went against the group rules’.

On the very same day, on the very same page, a mother posted a picture of their 14 year old, wearing a skimpy halter top and basically nothing else, with the child’s name, age, and medical information. it went something like this ‘I’m so proud of my 14 year old daughter, who has just made her first crochet garment, which really helps with her crippling anxiety’.

This is something we see over and over, as people get anxious about the dangerous world we live in, but don’t check, or think through, what safety actually is.

Does the groomer want the picture of a newborn baby with a nose peeking out of a swaddling wrap? No. The producer of pornographic images doesn’t want it either. That photo was really quite safe.

But what about the teen, with full name, age and medical information posted? Handed to a groomer on a plate, sadly. It’s exactly what they are cruising the internet to find. And the person looking for images to mis use could do much with the photo too. Being well meaning isn’t enough, if you confuse ‘children’ with ‘babies’.

It is important to be careful with all our young people.

Tip 6: know your local regulations on, child labour, on data protection, and on safeguarding

3 Areas of Law:

Data Protection,

Safe-guarding and child labour.

Be aware that all three of these impact what you can do and how you can do it. Check your local citizens information centre for easy handouts or guidelines.

Danger: Not being aware that there are regulations that cover these activities

Solution: Quickly checking which ones apply to you

We live in a society that excludes children and young people quite a bit, which is NOT in their best interests. We become terrified of taking photos of our kids, or letting those photos be seen. There is no law that says you can’t take a picture of your own or any one else’s child. And great harm can be done to kids when we don’t leet them be part of society, or our lives. How are they supposed to suddenly learn everything on their 18th birthday. A healthy society celebrates it’s children.

But it remains important to put thought and care into how we do it. and a first step is to check the regulations where you live. My references below, for those who would like to know more, are based on the UK and Ireland. If you live somewhere else, check your local information sources too.

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