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The effective administration of a child-labor law depends to a
very great extent on a thoroughgoing system o f issuing employment
certificates. The employment certificate aids law enforcement. It
is a safeguard that has been devised to prevent children from leaving
school and going to work until they can meet with the requirements
laid down in the child-labor and compulsory-education laws. An
adequate child-labor law should provide that a child must obtain
such a certificate before he can legally be employed, and that in order
to obtain it he must be o f a certain age and must have attained a
minimum standard o f education and physical fitness. 1
To-day nearly all the States require children to secure employment
certificates before going to work.
The proper enforcem ent o f the child-labor law depends upon the
officer in charge. The issuing o f certificates involves interviews with
children and parents, as well as explanations and instructions regard­
ing provisions in the law which are sometimes complicated. The
officer who issues employment certificates should, therefore, be above
the average in intelligence, patient and courteous at all times, and
determined to see that the child’s rights are preserved and that the
child’s needs are made the first consideration. Often the work o f
issuing employment certificates is delegated to an untrained clerk
or some other person unfitted for such work. Too much importance
can not be attached to the personality o f the issuing officer. The duty
o f issuing employment certificates is placed upon school officials
in many States, in others it devolves upon factory inspectors, indus­
trial commissions, health officers, or court officials.
1 See Standard» o f Child W elfare, Separate No. 2, Child Labor. Report from Confer­
ence Series No. 1.
Bureau Publication No. 60.
Children’s Bureau, U. S. Department
of Labor.
4 7 3 2 7 °— 21
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The most important duty o f the issuing officer is to determine
whether or not the child applying fo r an employment certificate is o f
legal age to work. The minimum age for employment in industrial
occupations is generally 14. In many States children under 16 may
not be employed in processes which involve unusual risk. In some
States no reliable evidence of the child’s age is required by law— an
unsupported affidavit or a school record o f age may be accepted as
sufficient proof.
The parent’s affidavit or the date o f birth as it appears on the
school record can not always be relied upon. The school may have
the child’s age registered incorrectly. There are parents who look
forward to the time when their children may become wage earners
and deliberately plan to evade the law by entering the children in
school as 6 or 7 years o f age when they are only 5 or 6. A few years
later his parent asks for the child’s working papers, claiming that
the child is 14, when in reality he is only 12 or 13 years o f age. The
school record shows he is 14, and the employment certificate is issued.
N o system can be devised that w ill keep all children in school up
to the age prescribed in the law until birth registration is everywhere
compulsory and every child's age is a matter o f public record. Cer­
tain States permit the issuing officer to accept any one of several
kinds o f proof o f age specified in the law without regard to the order
in which they are named. A birth certificate, a baptismal record, a
passport, a school record, or the parents’ affidavit may be accepted
as evidence o f the child’s age. Under such circumstances the tend­
ency o f many officers is to accept the evidence that can be secured
most easily. This evidence may be wholly unreliable, and as a result
the child may be permitted to work before he is o f legal age. Other
States provide in their statutes that certain specified evidence, such
as a birth certificate, a baptismal certificate, or a passport, must be
demanded in a prescribed order. For instance, if a birth certificate
can not be secured, and the issuing officer is satisfied it is not obtain­
able, then a baptismal certificate may be accepted. Although such
a provision would seem to insure the production of the most reliable
evidence, officers frequently accept the written statement o f the
parent that a birth certificate can not be secured, and take the evi­
dence next in order, particularly if the child is foreign born and it
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seems a hardship to delay the issuance o f the certificate until the
parents obtain the birth certificate from Europe.
Since it is o f interest to the child and to the community that
every effort be made to secure proper evidence o f the child’s age,
the official in charge of issuing employment certificates should give
the parents the necessary directions for securing that evidence.
Frequently parents are ignorant and helpless in the matter of corre­
spondence ; they do not know where to write for the required docu­
ment and they do not know whether or not a fee is charged for a
birth certificate. Instead of writing directly to the proper official
they sometimes write to friends or relatives at home to secure the
papers for them. I f the papers are not forthcoming the parent then
has no official statement to offer at the issuing office as proof that the
evidence is not obtainable. In some cities the issuing officers give
the parents or children printed directions for securing evidence of
age. Even this, however, is not always satisfactory, and in some
cities the officials in charge o f issuing certificates have found that a
great deal of time is saved and many mistakes avoided if they them­
selves send for the proof of age.
The issuing officer must be ever on the alert to examine carefully
the proof of age submitted, in order to protect the interests o f the
children. Frequently children present evidence with altered dates
or changed names. Some issuing officers have found it advisable to
stamp the evidence of age when it is submitted, in order to prevent
its subsequent use by another child.
The Minimum Standards for Children Entering Employment
adopted by the Children’s Bureau Conference on Child Welfare
Standards (May, 1919) contain the following section on employment
Provision shall be made for issuing employment certificates to all children
entering employment who are under 18 years o f age.
An employment certificate shall not be issued to the child until the issuing
officer has received, approved, and filed the following:
1. Reliable documentary proof of the child’s age.
2. Satisfactory evidence that the child has completed the eighth grade.
3. A certificate of physical fitness signed by a public-health physician
or school physician. This certificate shall state that the minor has been
thoroughly examined by the physician and that he is physically quali­
fied for the employment contemplated.
4. Promise of employment.
The certificate shall be issued to the employer and shall be returned by the
employer to the issuing officer when the child leaves his employment.
The school last attended, the compulsory education department, and the
continuation schools shall be kept informed by the issuing officers of certifi­
cates issued or refused and of unemployed children for whom certificates have
been issued.
Minors over 18 years of age shall be required to present evidence of age
before being permitted to work in occupations having an age prohibition.
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Record forms shall be standardized and the issuing o f employment certifi­
cates shall be under State supervision.
Reports shall be made to the factory inspection department o f a ll certifi­
cates issued and refused.


A cMld should not be given a certificate to work until he has
reached a minimum educational standard. It is generally agreed
that no child should be permitted to leave school for work in the
shop, on the farm, or in the home until he has gecured the minimum
education which is necessary for his success and happiness in life.
The extent o f illiteracy found among men drafted for the United
States Army shows the necessity for educating our boys and girls at
any cost. In some States a child need not meet any educational
requirement in order to secure an employment certificate, and even
illiterate children may be given permits tp work. The laws o f a
few other States require merely that the child must have been in
attendance at school a specified number o f days during the year pre­
ceding his application for an employment certificate. In other
States the child must be able to read and to write simple sentences
legibly, but it is hot always specified or required that he be able to do
so in English. Some State laws ,require that the child must have
completed a certain grade in school. For example, some States pro­
vide for the completion o f the fourth or fifth grade while others
make provision for as high as an eighth-grade education.
In certain States the law requires that the school principal certify
that the Child has fulfilled the educational requirements o f the law ;
and the issuing officer must accept such certification. In other
States the law provides that in addition to the “ school record ” issued
to the child by the school principal a test be given by the issuing offi­
cer in order that he may satisfy himself that the child has reached
the minimum standard of education. I f the children are riot suc­
cessful in the test they are refused employment certificates.
There are children who are mentally deficient and can not meet
even a low educational requirement. The parents and teachers,
realizing this, think that the children would be better off at work
than at school. But mentally defective children are undoubtedly
subject to greater risk in industry than are normal children. Train­
ing should be provided for them especially designed to develop skill
o f hand. The time spent at such training will not be wasted; for
the majority are not so hopelessly defective that they can not acquire
some dexterity, and as a result they will be better able to hold their
own when they finally go to work.
The educational minimum laid down in the Children’s Bureau
Standards o f Child Welfare for children entering employment are
as follow s:
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A ll children shall be required to attend school for at least nine months each
year, either full time or part time, between the ages of 7 and 18.
Children between 16 and 18 years of age who have completed the eighth
grade and are legally and regularly employed shall be required to attend day
continuation schools eight hours a week.
Children between 16 and 18 who have not completed the eighth grade or who
are not regularly employed shall attend full-time school.
Vacation schools placing special emphasis on healthful play and leisure time
activities shall be provided for all children.


A child should not be given a 'permit and allowed to w ork until a
public medical officer or one appointed by the board o f education or
the labor department has given him a physical examination and found
him to be physically fit fo r employment. The need for medical
supervision o f children as they enter industrial life has been em­
phasized by the fact that o f two and one-half million men examined
to determine their physical fitness for the Army, one-third were re­
jected, many o f them on account o f physical deficiencies that had
originated in childhood. In many States a physical examination is
not required before the employment certificate is granted. As a re­
sult, numbers o f working children break down from heart weakness,
tuberculosis, nervous conditions, and general debility. Many others
are handicapped because o f defective vision or because they are
undersized or are lacking in general strength.
Even in States where the laws make some physical requirement it
may be merely that the issuing officer “ satisfy himself ” o f the child’s
physical ability to perform the work he intends to do, or that he is
authorized to require a physician’s certificate to that effect. Such re­
quirements often provide no protection at all to the child. In many
States, however, the law specifies that before a child is granted an
employment certificate he must be examined by a public medical
officer or a physician appointed by the board o f education, who cer­
tifies that the child is “ in sound health,” o f “ normal development,”
or “ physically able to perform the work which he intends to do.”
When the law requires that the child shall be in “ sound health ”
or o f “ normal development ” the physicians are in need o f a standard
for determining what is “ sound health” ; they also need to know
what is considered normal development for children of different ages.
Some State enforcing authorities require that employment certifi­
cates be granted only to those children who can meet a certain pre­
scribed physical standard.
Where the State laws require the child to be examined in order that
his fitness to undertake a particular job may be ascertained, it is im­
portant that the examining physicians have definite knowledge o f in­
dustrial conditions and o f the particular work which the children are
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to perform. Various efforts are being made to study at first hand the
occupations in which children o f certificate age are engaged, but
further study is required before examining physicians can have ade­
quate knowledge o f the physical and nervous strain involved in d if­
ferent occupations. A physician might refuse to give a boy with
heart disease a certificate to work as a messenger boy, but he might,
through ignorance o f the duties involved, allow that same boy to do
other work which requires lifting heavy weights.
A detailed record card showing the physical condition of each
child should be kept in the issuing office. I f the child has any phys­
ical defects every effort should be made to see that they are corrected
before an employment certificate is issued, for unless he is put in
good physical condition before entering employment the medical
examination does little good. This is especially necessary in States
which do not require a child to be physically examined after he has
once gone to work. In some places where a physical examination
is required, a child who has defective vision, defective teeth, or dis­
eased tonsils or adenoids is refused an employment certificate until
the defects are corrected, and a certificate is unconditionally refused
to a child who has heart disease or is tuberculous or whose physical
condition is such that employment during the period o f adolescence
would be detrimental to his future health.2
The responsibility o f the issuing officer should not end with the
physical examination. The children rejected because they are phys­
ically unfit should be followed up to see that their defects are cor­
rected. In some cities if the parent can not afford to pay for treat­
ment the children are referred to a dispensary. A few issuing offi­
cers refer children who are physically unfit for employment to the
school nurses or public-health nurses, in order that they may be ad­
vised regarding treatment. In one city the official who issues the
employment certificates has cooperated with certain local agencies
in an effort to secure milk and nourishing food for underfed and
anemic children. Arrangements have been made to send some of
these children to the country, while convalescent care has been secured
for others. A fund has also been .established in order that children
who can not afford to buy eyeglasses may be supplied with them free
o f charge.
In some States children are examined not only when they start to
work but also each time they change positions, in order that the ex­
aminers may judge whether the child is physically fit for his new
2 A committee on physical standards for working children, appointed by the Children’s
Bureau, has prepared a report on standards of normal development and physical fitness,
including a record form for the use of examining physicians.
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occupation. They are thus able to determine what effect industry
has had upon the child and may correct any physical defects that
may have developed while he has been working. Such examinations
show which children are not gaining as much as they should in weight
and which ones have actually lost weight. The health o f children in
industry can not properly be protected until there is adequate medi­
cal supervision o f all employed children.
I t is important that the issuing officer work, in close cooperation
with the school* officials, the compulsory-school-attendance depart­
ment,, and the factory-inspection department if the child-labor and
compulsory-school-attendance laws are to be properly enforced.
A compulsory-school-attendance law should provide fo r attendance
at school o f all children who are not legally em ployed, and adeguate
administrative machinery should be devised fo r its enforcement.
Sometimes the compulsory-school-attendance law ignores the child
entirely after he has reached the legal age for going to work, so that
a child may leave school as soon as the law allows, secure a certifi­
cate for work, and yet be idle for long periods. He may not be at
work, but the educational authorities can not require that he return
to school.
In most States the exemption o f an employed child is limited to
the period when he is actually at work, and when he is unemployed
he is supposed to go back to school. But frequently there is no ma­
chinery for enforcing this provision and no way for officials to know
when a child is not at work.
In order that children may not be idle for long periods after leav­
ing school, many States have found it advisable not only to require
attendance at school when the child is not lawfully employed but also
to permit no child to leave school and secure an employment cer­
tificate until he first has a promise o f employment and brings to the
issuing officer a statement from the employer that he will employ
the child. It is sometimes required that this statement shall include
the kind o f work the child will do, and the number o f hours per day
and per week he is going to work. I f the work the child intends to
do is in violation o f the child-labor law, the issuing officer must re­
quire him to secure other employment that is legal before a certifi­
cate is granted him. In some localities the issuing officer reports
daily to each school the names o f children who have been granted
certificates. In addition, children who are refused employment cer­
tificates for any reason are reported to the compulsory-school-attend­
ance department, which sees that they return to school.
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In one city a child, to whom a school record has been issued is not
dropped from the school roll .until the school authorities have been
notified by the issuing officer that an employment certificate has been
granted him. If, in the meantime, the child is absent from school
he is reported to the truant officer, who visits the child’s home and
makes inquiries regarding him. I f the parent states that the child
is at work, the officer finds out whether or not an employment certifi­
cate has been issued to him. Violations of the child-labor law dis­
covered in this way by the truant officer are reported to the depart­
ment that enforces the child-labor law.
In order that the compulsory education law pertaining to unem­
ployed children may be enforced, a number o f Statesjiave found that
an effective method is to require that—
(1) Each child have a promise o f employment before he leaves
school and secures an employment certificate.
(2) The certificate be mailed to the employer.
(3) The employer return the certificate to the issuing officer when
the child leaves his job or is for any reason discharged.
(4) In order to secure a new certificate the child must get an­
other promise of employment and apply again to the issuing officer.
If, after a certificate has been returned by the former employer,
the child fails to apply within a few days for a subsequent one, the
issuing officer should report him to the truant officer, whose duty it
is to see that he returns to school until he secures other employment.
Such provisions should insure the attendance at school o f all chil­
dren o f school age who are not employed.
I t is becoming generally recognized that children should have some
supervision after they start to work. I f the child must return to
the employment-certificate office each time he changes his position, the
issuing officer has an opportunity to question the child regarding his
employment. In this way much valuable information may be se­
cured regarding the conditions under which children work. Such
information may lead to better working conditions for children and
may perhaps assist the school authorities in adapting the curriculum
to the needs o f the children. The certificate office under this plan is
given a measure o f supervision over working children up to at least
the age o f 16, and is in a position to help enforce the laws relating
to occupations prohibited to children as well as the laws concerning
the hours o f employment.
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E M P L O Y M E N T -C E R T I F I C A T E



A satisfactory 'program fo r the care o f children o f employmentcertificate age should, require a further period of compulsory at­
tendance during a few hours each week at daytime continuation
schools provided to meet the needs o f working children. In most
States children who secure employment certificates and are at work
are exempt from further, attendance at school. An increasing num­
ber o f States are finding it advisable to secure legislation providing
for continuation schools for these children. In some localities where
attendance at continuation schools is compulsory, the officer who
issues employment certificates also assigns the children to continua­
tion classes. The compulsory continuation school provides a prac­
ticable method o f keeping children under the supervision and control
of school authorities during the first critical years o f their working
lives when they most need protection.
In order that childrenm ay he saved from the wasteful hunt fo r
a job, and in order that they may he assisted in finding work to
which they are suited and in which they may advance, a few cities
have established vocational guidance and placement bureaus in con­
nection with the em ploym ent-certificate office. Every child leaving
school is thus offered the benefit of occupational advice and guidance.
The first aim of such bureaus is to keep children in school by point­
ing out to them and to their parents the value of further education;
by showing them that increased training means increased earnings,
better health, and greater efficiency, and that there are in reality
few good opportunities in industry which offer training and advance­
ment to young children. I f the child can not be persuaded to re­
turn to school, the officer may assist him in finding the employment
best suited to him and may also give him some degree of supervision
after he starts to work.
The employment-certificate official—no matter how efficient he is—
can not r alone make a child-labor law really protect the children.
He must have the backing of the community.
1. The community should first of all be aroused to an understand­
ing o f the necessity of adequate enforcement o f the child-labor and
compulsory-school-attendance laws.
2. The community should maintain officials in charge o f such work
who will conscientiously enforce the laws for the benefit of the
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children. A sufficient number o f assistants must be given the issuing
officer if he is to do his work effectively.
3. The community should work for complete birth registration in
order that the real ages of the children applying for employment
certificates may be readily ascertained. Information from such re­
liable age records should prevent the issuing officer from granting
employment certificates to any children not of legal age.
4. The community should see that a sufficient number of truant
officers are provided to enforce the compulsory-school-attendance
laws. In many rural districts these laws are poorly enforced. In
some States the school term is so short that children are in school
only a small part o f the year. Only a few States make an effort to
return to school children o f employment-certificate ages who are not
at work.
5. The community should m odify the school curriculum in such a
way that it will better meet the needs o f the children.
children leave school because they are not interested in the academic
work which the school offers. They may be refused employment
certificates and forbidden to work, but i f they are to be kept in
school it is not enough merely to pass a law requiring attendance.
The school must provide training which parents and children alike
will consider so well worth having that they are willing to forego
the immediate assistance which the child’s wages would afford. A ll­
day industrial and vocational schools have been established in a
number o f ¿States to meet the needs o f such children.
6. Local committees should be able to offer their assistance to the
issuing officers in States where a physical examination is required, in
following up children who are refused certificates because o f physical
unfitness in order to see that they have the necessary treatment. They
may make provision for the care of those children who can not afford
medical treatment. Every effort should be made to safeguard the
health of working children.
7. The community should make provision for the care o f the
families of those children whose earnings are needed at home. Some­
times this can be done by providing scholarships for children o f
school age. Certain States have met the needs o f some children by
means o f mothers’ pensions.
8. The community should work to secure daytime continuation
schools to give working children further training.
Some States recognize the fact that all children whether at school
or at work should be assured an education and that children who
must leave school for work at an early age should be given oppor­
tunities to improve their education and receive further training.
Under the Federal vocational education act, the Government will
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E M P L O Y M E N T -C E R T I F I C A T E



give one dollar for every dollar spent by any community or State on
continuation schools.
Local committees can doubtless ascertain where their present laws
are lax and what action should be taken to make their laws really
protect the children.
Following is a list o f Children’s Bureau publications relating to
employment certificates and the enforcement o f child-labor laws:
No. 12. Administration of Child-Labor L a w s: Part 1, Employment-Certificate
System, Connecticut, by Helen L. Sumner and Ethel E. Hanks.
(In ­
dustrial Series, No. 2.)


No. 17. Administration of Child-Labor L a w s: Part 2, Employment-Certificate
System, New York, by Helen L. Sumner and Ethel E. Hanks,
(In ­
dustrial Series, No. 2.)


No. 41. Administration of Child-Labor L a w s: Part 3, Employment-Certificate
System, Maryland, by Francis Henry Bird and Ella Arvilla Merritt.
(Industrial Series, No. 2.) 1919.
No. — . Administration o f Child-Labor L a w s: Part 4, Employment-Certificate
System, Wisconsin, by Ethel Hanks.
(Industrial Series, No. 2.)
(In press.)
No. 53. Advising Children in their Choice of Occupation and Supervising the
Working Child, prepared in collaboration with the Child Conservation
Section of the Field Division, Council o f National Defense.
dren’s Year Leaflet, No. 10.) 1919.
No. 60. Standards of Child W e lfa re: A report of the Children’s Bureau con­
ferences, May and June, 1919.
(Conference Series,. No. 1.)
Separate, No. 2 : Child Labor.
No. 64. Every Child in School.

(Children’s Year Follow-up Series, No. 3.) 1919.

No. 78. Administration of the First Federal Child-Labor Law.
No. 6 ; Industrial Series, No. 6.) 1921.

(Legal Series,

No. 79. Physical Standards for Working Children: Preliminary report of the
committee appointed by the Children’s Bureau of the United States
Department of Labor to formulate standards o f normal development
and sound health for the use of physicians examining children enter­
ing employment and children at work.
Chart Series No. 1. State Child-Labor Standards, January 1,1921.
Chart Series No. 2. State Compulsory School-Attendance Standards Affecting
the Employment of Minors, January 1, 1921.

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