Have you as an Early Years Educator ever been in the situation in your setting, where you want to take a photograph of an individual child or a group of children and suddenly realise that one or other of the children’s parents have not given consent for the child’s photo to be taken? What do you do? The following scenarios are designed to help you reflect on possible situations and how you might proceed.
Five children are playing in the garden placing small sticks in a pile and talking about how they could build a tree house. You want to capture this in a photo to share with their parents, to let them know how the children were collaborating so well with each, taking turns, problem solving, and really enjoying being with each other. A photo would really demonstrate how engaged the children were. Then you realise that Bailey’s parents have not consented for her photo to be taken! What do you do?
Two children are playing in the kitchen area and are using the pots and pans to make pancakes. Eva tells Roisin that her Mammy makes the best pancakes ever! Roisin picks up the frying pan and says her Mammy can flip pancakes up in the air, she holds the frying pan out and asks Eva would she like to try flipping a pancake? You have a camera in your hand ready to take the photos as this activity is unfolding in front of you, and you are thinking this might make a lovely learning story! Capturing it moment by moment would also give the children a wonderful opportunity to reflect on it later! However, you know that Roisin’s parents did not give consent for her photo to be taken. What do you do?
David is painting a picture and is mixing colours with a brush and uses very delicate brush strokes to make marks on the paper. You see that he is very focused on what he is doing and creates a beautiful scene with the mixed colours. You take out your camera, David looks up and says, ‘don’t take my photo’, you know that David’s parents have given consent for his photo to be taken, it would be lovely to capture this to include in David’s individual portfolio to show his parents later how creative David can be! What do you do, do you still take the photo?
It is coming to the end of the preschool year, most of the children have been with you for nearly two years and you have built up a close relationship with them all over this time. You know that you may not see some or all of these children again once they have left your setting, and you want to take a group photo as a memory of them all. But you know that you do not have consent for two of the children in the group to have their photo taken. What do you do?
Your setting has been involved in a fund raiser and the organisation you are fundraising on behalf of requests a visit to your setting to take photos of the children for promotional reasons. You gather all the children together for a group photo, the camera man is there ready to snap the photo, you know that one child’s parents in the group has not consented for the child to have his photo taken. What do you do?
In the above scenarios many questions arise for educators, from the practical to the ethical. We know what is required from us in terms of the pre-school regulations, GDPR, policies and procedures, but it can be difficult as an educator to always make the right call. While you cannot override parent’s refusal to consent to having their child’s photo taken, you can put in place a few practical steps to help with decision making, ensuring that the child is at the centre of these decisions.
First of all, it is important to have a good policy and procedure in place around taking photographs, or this could be a good time to up-date an existing one. Ensure that you share this with parents before their child starts in your setting. Discuss with them what you will be using the photo’s for, outline the importance of why you might want to take photos of children, for example: as a method of sharing information about their child’s learning; as a method of supporting children to reflect on their own learning, the child looks at the photo and is able to recall and talk about what he/she was doing at that time. This will also be an opportunity to assess what the child has learned. A good policy will outline exactly what the photos will be used for, who’s camera the photos are taken with, how the data will be protected (in line with GDPR). It needs to be communicated to all staff and be linked to your existing policies, for example, curriculum, play, safeguarding, health and safety etc.
In Scenario 1 and 2, there were lovely moments of children learning together, the possibility of recording a learning story and an opportunity to share this learning with the children and parents. But not all children in the group have consent for the photo! However, without the photo the learning will not be lost! A possible solution could be to record the learning in a narrative form, describing where the children were, what they were doing, what they were saying. Instead of the photo, you could draw a little sketch of the play situation and recount this with the children, asking them if there is anything else they would like you to capture in the sketch. This can then be entered in each of their learning journals/portfolios, ready to share.
While it might be tempting to take the photo, and try to leave out the child whom you do not have consent for, think about how the child who is not in the photo might feel! Thinking about how the child might feel, keeping the child at the centre of your decisions, helps to inform your actions. Take time as a staff team to discuss how to handle this possible situation, don’t wait for the situation to arise first. Be prepared and make decisions based on careful consideration as a full staff team. Why not make this the topic of discussion at your next staff/team meeting?
In Scenario 3, where David does not want his photo taken, even though you know it is a lovely piece of evidence of his learning. You must respect the child’s decision not to have his photo taken. Siolta Standard 1, Rights of the Child, reminds us that ‘each child has opportunities to make choices, is enabled to make decisions and have his/her choices and decisions respected. A possible solution is to record the observation in narrative form and include it in the child’s portfolio/learning journal. Acknowledge David’s right and let him know that you respected his decision, ‘ok David I will not take your photo as you have asked me not to’!
In Scenario 4, it has come to the end of the school year and you want to take a group photo, but you do not have consent to take photos for all the children! There is a lot of emotion involved, saying goodbye to children whom you may not see again. This situation falls under an ‘ethical dilemma’, torn between capturing the memory and respecting parent’s wishes. One possible solution might be to talk with parents about your end of year celebrations, well in advance and how you like to keep a photo of all the children who attend your setting. Once Parents know how photos are going to be used, they may be happy to consent to their child’s photo being taken. However, they may also refuse and you could consider asking the parents to send you in a photo of their child for you to keep! In some cases, Parent’s do not want their child’s image digitally recorded and are happy to give you a photo they had taken themselves.
In Scenario 5, where all the children are gathered for a group photo for the fundraising event, but consent is not given for all children to be photographed. One possible approach is to involve the child/children whom you do not have consent for in the process. Create opportunities for the child to be your helper, getting the other children to smile for the photo, holding some of the equipment, taking a photo with the setting’s camera at the same time as the photographer.
With a little thought and planning many practical and ethical dilemmas around the taking or not taking of photos can be minimised. Be prepared, discuss as a team and keep the child at the centre of all your informed decisions!!
Kathleen Tuite holds an MA in Early Childhood Studies and works for Early Childhood Ireland as an Early Childhood Specialist. Kathleen’s work includes offering advice, support and mentoring to Early Years Educators, teachers and students. Using the National Frameworks, Kathleen offers training across all areas of Early Years Practice and last year became a Marte Meo Colleague Trainer.