Model children pay their own way through university

If your offspring's personalities are as attractive as their faces they could earn thousands a week. By Jasmine Birtles and Mara Pattison-Sowden
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The Independent Online

Children and babies are used increasingly in advertising to promote everything from clothes to household products. The earnings can be impressive but there are many pitfalls – not least bogus agencies that charge doting parents for a portfolio of photos and then never contact them again.

"People continually set up, shut down and rename their businesses," says Katie Froud of Alba Model Information ( www.albamodel.info). "Some parents think it's enough to pick a name out of the Yellow Pages. But anyone can advertise there."

There is no official regulator of the modelling industry, so Alba acts as a watchdog. It mystery shops its 75 member agencies, to check that they are treating models fairly. and publishes an "A-list"of agencies that meet its criteria, and pass its vetting process.

Earnings for babies and children begin at about £50 an hour and rise to about £70 an hour for a 16-year-old. The money can only be paid into an account in their name, but parents benefit indirectly as their children earn money that could see them through their education later on.

Getting into a proper agency is simply a matter of the child having the right look and the parents having the right attitude. Contrary to what some agencies will tell you a good holiday snap will do for an agent to decide on whether to sign up the child. Snapshots where the agent can see the child's full face, profile, and a clear full length photo will do to get an idea of the look and proportions of the child.

"It is crucial to get the message across that professional pictures are not necessary. As long as the picture shows the child's face the client will be able to make a decision as to whether their look is right for them," Ms Froud says.

What's more, Alba warns parents to be wary of agencies which ask for high up-front fees or charge hefty commission. As a rule, agents should only take between 15 and 20 per cent commission. Agencies choose children that have a good temperament and are able to socialise easily, so a baby that starts bawling when handed to a stranger is unlikely to be signed up. "Children over two have to be well-disciplined, listen to directions, interact and be happy," says Ms Froud. "If they're not then that's when its time for the hobby to stop."

Parents also have to have the right approach for it to work. It is a job that takes a lot of time for the parent as well, including getting to and from castings and making sure there is childcare available for siblings.

"It's a business and has to be approached professionally by everyone concerned," says Ms Froud.

Billboard siblings

"I have three children who like showing off," says Maxine Dunkley from London. The children, Amber, 11, Rio, 9, and Anjà, 5, have been modelling most of their lives, starting with an ad for Johnson & Johnson's when Amber was just four months old.

The money earned goes straight into the children's individual university funds. For a full week during school holidays, five-year-old Anjà can earn about £2,000.

The children are with London-based agency Truly Scrumptious. "The agency is good because they only take children they believe they can get jobs for," says Ms Dunkley.

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