Child employment and child employment policy
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of the West of Scotland
Unit of AssessmentSocial Work and Social Policy
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Summary of the impact
Sandy Hobbs and Jim McKechnie have been researching the issue of young
people's (i.e. under 16 years of age) involvement in employment: this is
usually termed child labour or child employment. The goal of this research
was to establish an evidence base regarding the nature and extent of child
employment in the UK, and to consider the benefits and costs of this
experience for young people. The impact of this research has been to raise
the level of awareness of this issue within the UK, providing an evidence
base that has been used by NGOs, and evaluating policy and practice for
local and national government departments in the UK and the Isle of Man.
Since 1991 McKechnie and Hobbs have been conducting research into child
employment and since 1993 have published >50 articles, books and book
chapters and provided 20 reports for local authorities, government
departments and international bodies. The research has had three principal
(i) establishing the nature and extent of child employment —
their research has shown that the majority of young people will have
experience of paid employment before reaching the end of compulsory
schooling. The finding established in their 1990s research was challenged
by some but was supported in the first nationally representative in-depth
study in the UK of this type of employment (Howieson, McKechnie &
Semple, 2006). McKechnie was joint principal investigator on this project
with colleagues from Edinburgh and Strathclyde University. Hobbs was a
consultant on the project.
McKechnie & Hobbs also established that child employees work in a
wide range of jobs, many equated with adult part time work. In doing so
they challenged the stereotype that young people work predominantly in
`children's jobs' such as paper rounds.
(ii) the costs and benefits of child employment — McKechnie &
Hobbs challenged the dominant view that employment for this age group is
necessarily a negative experience, a view embedded within international
debates on `child labour'. They developed an alternative model, the
Balance Model, which argued that employment for this group has potentially
positive and negative outcomes (Hobbs & McKechnie, 1997; 2007). They
set out the key variables which have an impact on the outcome of
children's experience of employment. This model has been adopted at the
(iii) evaluation of policy and practice in regulating child employment
— the regulation of child employees is controlled by legislation in
Britain. This legislation establishes the parameters and circumstances
under which children can be employed. Local Authorities are then charged
with ensuring that these regulations are complied with. In a series of
studies McKechnie & Hobbs have shown that the regulatory framework
fails to protect young employees and that the majority work illegally.
These findings were first reported in a series of reports for local
authorities including Cumbria County Council, Blackburn and North
Tyneside. (Hobbs & McKechnie, 1997). Further research on the failings
of the regulatory system have recently been published in peer reviewed
journals (McKechnie et al, 2007; McKechnie et al 2009; McKechnie et al,
This research has identified a number of failings in the current
regulatory framework. Their recent work for the Department of Education
(2011) showed that the key legislation in this area does not reflect
children's experiences in contemporary society. At the local authority
level the problem of non-compliance by employers/child employees stems
from lack of awareness of the legislation; poor enforcement strategies;
under-resourcing due to lack of awareness of levels of employment; low
prioritisation of the issue at local and central government. McKechnie
& Hobbs have also carried out intervention studies which reduced the
levels of illegal employment (McKechnie et al, 2007) and evaluated
alternative regulatory approaches (McKechnie et al, 2011).
This body of work was carried out by Hobbs & McKechnie whilst based
at the University of the West of Scotland (previously University of
Paisley) with the support of PhD students and research assistants. In two
recent funded projects, one for the Scottish Government in 2004-06 and one
for the Department of Education 2010-11, they have collaborated with
colleagues Dr Cathy Howieson (Edinburgh University) and Sheila Semple
(University of Strathclyde).
References to the research
Hobbs, S. & McKechnie, J. (1997) Child Employment in Britain: A
social and psychological analysis, The Stationery Office Limited,
McKechnie, J., Anderson, S. and Hobbs, S. (2007) Cumbria's working
making the legislation work. London: NSPCC.
McKechnie, J., Hobbs,S. & Anderson, S. (2009) Can child employment
legislation work? Youth & Policy, 101, 43-54.
McKechnie, J., Hobbs, S., Simpson, A., Howieson, C. and Semple, S. (2013)
Protecting child employees: why the system doesn't work. Youth &
Policy, 110, 66-87.
Details of the impact
Throughout the 1990s Hobbs & McKechnie's research raised awareness of
child employment in Britain in that it challenged existing stereotypes of
`children's' jobs' and questioned policy makers views on the nature and
extent of this type of employment experience. However, the primary impact
emerged from a series of studies in 2005-07. These studies focused on
policy issues relating to the regulation of child employment.
Two collaborative projects were carried out with Cumbria County Council
and the NSPCC from 2004-2007. The first project focused on children's
understanding of their exposure to risk in the workplace while the second
project consisted of an intervention study targeted at improving the
effectiveness of the regulatory framework (McKechnie et al, 2007; 2009).
This work raised awareness for the County Council and resulted in the
NSPCC placing child employment on its agenda. The publication of the
findings (McKechnie et al, 2007) resulted in the NSPCC organising a
conference on child employment (18th July 2008), involving
policy makers and practitioners to discuss the findings from these
studies. This was followed by an NSPCC conference/event for young people
on the issue of child employment (5.2 ; 5.5).
Hobbs & McKechnie's work in Cumbria (Hobbs and McKechnie, 1997) has
influenced the approach to the regulation of child employment. The 2005
and 2007 reports affected the way the authority saw the child employment
officer's role in regulating child employment in the region. This was at a
time when the children's services were being reorganised, and the findings
identified the contribution of this service within the local authority
The intervention study (McKechnie et al, 2007; 2009) and the national
study of young people's employment (Howieson et al, 2006) were used by
non-governmental organisations in their programme of awareness raising and
lobbying (5.2). The National Network of Child Employment and Entertainment
Officers (NNCEE) drew on this work and other research outputs from Hobbs
and McKechnie to lobby government on the need to review policy and
regulation in this area. This lobbying was a contributory factor to the
then Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) establishing an
evaluation study of the regulatory framework in England (5.2). This
project initially set up by the DCSF, was continued after the last
election by the Department of Education (DfE).
Hobbs and McKechnie's work has also contributed to training days for the
NNCEE and presentations at their national conferences (5.2).
Hobbs and McKechnie's work has also raised awareness of child employment
for government bodies. The presentation of the 2007 intervention study
findings led representatives from the Isle of Man's Department of
Education and Children (DfEC) to investigate the nature and extent of
child employment and the effectiveness of its regulatory system, which
differs from that used in Britain. This resulted in the DfEC supporting a
study of child employment and its regulation on the island, 2010-13 (5.1).
This study carried out by McKechnie and Hobbs's PhD student, Emma Littler,
reported in July 2013. The findings provided the DfEC with the first data
on the nature and extent of child employment, and identified weaknesses in
the island's regulatory system.
McKechnie, Hobbs and Littler were invited to present the findings to the
Minister for Education, the DfEC's Chief Executive Officer and senior DfEC
staff in July 2013. As a result of this, the Department is currently
reviewing its policy and practice (5.1).
The review of policy is at the heart of the most recent research output.
In 2009-10 the DCSF initiated a project to evaluate the current regulatory
system in England and to consider alternative approaches to regulation
(5.2 ; 5.4). McKechnie and Hobbs, along with colleagues from Edinburgh
University (Cathy Howieson and Sheila Semple), were awarded the contract.
McKechnie was the principal investigator. Post-2010 election the DfE (the
re-named DCSF) continued with this review. The report (McKechnie et al,
2011; 2013) drew attention to the major issues concerning current practice
in this area and contributed to the Department's review of child
employment (5.4). The review process ended in 2012 with the decision not
to proceed with changes in the current regulations.
In the period under review Hobbs and McKechnie's research output has
raised awareness of a common, yet neglected, experience for young people
in Britain. In doing so they have provided an evidence base which has
underpinned the debate of policy and practice in this area.
Sources to corroborate the impact
5.1 testimonial statement from Department of Education and Children, Isle
5.2 testimonial statement from the current chair and former chair and
secretary of the National Network of Child Employment and Entertainment
5.3 testimonial statement from Child Employment Officer, Cumbria County
5.4 final report to the Department of Education:
McKechnie, J., Hobbs, S., Simpson, A., Howieson, C. and Semple, S. (2011)
The regulation of child employment and options for reform. London:
Department for Education.
5.5 NSPCC webpage citing the 2007 collaborative study between NSPCC,
Cumbria County Council and the Child Employment Research Group as source