'Kate Plus Eight' kids could be in violation of work-permit rules, raising concerns

"Kate Plus Eight" star Kate Gosselin takes her eight children shopping at the Stride Rite store in Quakertown.
"Kate Plus Eight" star Kate Gosselin takes her eight children shopping at the Stride Rite store in Quakertown.
Posted: September 13, 2010

A PENNSYLVANIA lawmaker is preparing to go to battle over special work permits issued to the Gosselin children, stars of the TLC network's popular reality show "Kate Plus Eight."

State Rep. Thomas Murt, a Republican whose district includes parts of Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, believes that the permits were issued improperly, although the Department of Labor and Industry says that they're perfectly legal.

Both sides agree that the state's Child Labor Law, under which the department issues the permits, needs to be revamped. In June, Murt introduced a bill to do just that, following a two-year, high-profile investigation by the department into a complaint about the children's welfare on the set of the show, which is shot in Wernersville, Berks County.

The Labor Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the bill Sept. 23, when amendments are expected to be introduced as well. Former child actors are expected to attend the hearing in support of the bill.

The law clearly addresses children ages 7 and older who can obtain special permits to work in movies. But what about the 6-year-old Gosselin sextuplets - Alexis, Hannah, Aaden, Collin, Leah and Joel? The law doesn't appear to cover children under 7 in TV performances.

The department issued "special performance permits" to the show's producers to allow the sextuplets and their 9-year-old twin sisters, Cara and Mady, to appear on the show.

But copies supplied to the Daily News by Murt's office show that the permits were issued April 20 - about 3 1/2 years after the original show, "Jon and Kate Plus Eight," went into production in 2007.

The Gosselins separated in 2009, and the show returned to the air three months ago under its new title focusing on Kate Gosselin as a single mother raising eight children.

The law says that the department can authorize permits "for the temporary employment of minors as part of the performing cast in the production of a motion picture."

Although TV is not included in this part of the law, the department contends that legal authorities treat films and television the same, therefore the permits are valid, department spokesman Troy Thompson said.

"We could not let that ambiguity dictate us applying the law to protect the safety and welfare of the children," Thompson said. "Through these permits, we are making sure that the children are not unlawfully exploited."

Murt and his staff consulted with Kevin and Jodi Kreider, the brother and sister-in-law of Kate Gosselin.

They also consulted with representatives from the entertainment industry, including TLC and the Motion Picture Association of America; and national child-labor experts, including former child TV actor Paul Petersen, of California, an outspoken critic of Hollywood abuses against child actors.

No background checks are required for any of the show's technicians or videographers, who sometimes work solo when filming one of the children, said Petersen, who starred in the 1950s and '60s on the "Mickey Mouse Club" and the "The Donna Reed Show." Murt will introduce an amendment at the Sept. 23 hearing to include background checks for all set personnel and stipulating that more than one person participate in filming a child.

"No one in Pennsylvania sends their kid to summer camp without knowing that all the people in the summer camp have had a background check," said Petersen, adding that he gets fingerprinted and attends a training session each year he works at a camp in California.

Murt's bill also proposes the following safeguards:

* Minors, 7 to 17, working on a TV, movie production or other entertainment would be required to have a work permit issued by the department to assure that all provisions have been made for the minors' educational instruction, supervision, health and welfare. Murt will introduce an amendment at the hearing to include minors 6 years old and under.

* The hours worked by minors between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. would be restricted.

* A teacher or set advocate on the set would be required when a child is present.

* An employer would have to place 15 percent of a minor's gross earnings into a trust, which at least one parent or legal guardian would oversee.

"When the Child Labor Law was written in Pennsylvania many years ago, there was no such thing as reality television," Murt said. Now, "reality television is a very high-profile, very lucrative, very popular venue . . . The law needs to be updated to protect children on reality television."

Warning signs

Jodi and Kevin Kreider were alarmed by the red flags they saw when TLC producers entered the lives of the Gosselins, the core of "Jon and Kate Plus Eight."

The Kreiders and their four children were once a regular presence in the Gosselin household, and vice versa. Jon and Kate moved to a house in the same development as Jodi and Kevin's in Elizabethtown, Lancaster County, to be closer to them, the couple said.

Jon and Kevin, Kate's younger brother, often worked together on do-it-yourself projects, while Jodi helped Kate take care of the Gosselin brood.

"We lived life together," Jodi Kreider said.

But after the first episode aired in 2007, and ratings were a hit and the shooting schedule was increased, the couple said, they sensed that the production had transformed family life into corporate business.

"Filming the kids turned detrimental because of their popularity," said Kevin Kreider, 33. "The pressures from the network and the contract that was signed . . . their best interests were not being looked out for.

"The children were turned into commodities."

Added Jodi Kreider, 34: "Clearly anyone giving them sound advice started being pushed out of their lives."

Kate Gosselin has had little contact with her brother and sister-in-law since they began speaking up about their concerns, and Jon Gosselin recently broke contact with the couple after they spoke at a public forum with lawmakers about their concerns for children, including their nieces and nephews.

At first, the producers filmed two hourlong documentaries on the family, something that Jodi said was "innocent enough." But when TLC offered them a series - nine episodes in Season 1, 13 in Season 2 and a whopping 33 in Season 3 - concerns began to pop up:

* Producers taped and aired footage of at least two children being toilet-trained, Jodi Kreider said. The clip is on YouTube and features one of the sextuplets, underpants down, sitting on a toilet.

"That's a gross violation of privacy, whether you're a child or an adult," said Petersen, the child-actor advocate. "There is no delete button on the Internet."

Jodi Kreider said that those are "private, personal and embarrassing moments that have been used for the entertainment of the public.

"The kids are unaware of what their childhood is being used for."

Jodi Kreider said that she recalled at least three disturbing situations:

* She was baby-sitting for some of the Gosselin children at a local playground and a show cameraman tagged along to shoot footage. He focused on a child having a temper tantrum or acting out, she said. When she questioned the cameraman about it, he replied, "We have been instructed by the producers to focus on those [crying] children because drama sells."

* Cameras were installed inside the sextuplets' bedrooms and were on during the night to capture the children's movements at all times. Professional lighting was installed in the living room and kitchen, essentially forcing family life into those areas.

* In the fall of 2008, the producers had Kate and Jon celebrate Christmas early. A tree was decorated, presents were put underneath, and Kate baked "what she normally does" for the children, Kreider said.

"I'm sure when they grow up and they have memories of Christmas for the show . . . those are going to be hard to process," she said. "And when they realize their childhood was used for the entertainment of strangers, they're going to feel violated and it's going to be a hard thing to work through."

Kreider said that the decision to speak out was difficult for herself and her husband.

"There were two things we could do," she said. "Stay quiet, turn our backs on our nieces and nephews and all children involved with reality shows, or speak out even though it's not the popular thing to say but bring awareness to this extremely serious issue."

She said that she "didn't want eight adults looking at me and saying, 'Why didn't you say anything? Why did you turn your back on us?' It was extremely difficult, but this is a worthy cause.

"It was not them living their life. To me, it was not healthy for children to grow up in that kind of environment."

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