New Study Addresses Concerns Re Arrestees’ Children

On June 12, 2013, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole announced that the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), with DOJ funding support has developed a best practices model to protect the physical and emotional well-being of children when their parents are arrested. IACP recently released its findings in “Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents”.

The title of the study reminds us that an arrest is not over with the parents’ apprehension. Once the parent is in custody, police must direct attention to serving the best interests of the child. IACP has introduced this model policy. This is based on the finding the best way to ensure arrest related issues of a parent are offset in the interest of the child is to implement a formal policy and procedure.

This study defines a child to be any unemancipated person under the age of 18, or as otherwise defined by state law, whether or not he or she is present at the arrest.

IACP focused on improving police services via community-oriented policing when a parent is arrested. According to the study more than 1.7 million children have a parent in prison. Experts advise of the potential trauma these children may experience as LEOs carry out their lawful duties in the arrest of a parent.

The major concern regarding an arrest of a parent is the perception of the arrest in the eyes of a child. An arrest legality is not understood by the child. A child is traumatized as police take a parent into custody.

The parent is the criminal, but research indicates that a parent’s arrest can have a negative impact on a child’s immediate and long term emotional, mental, social, and physical health.  Resentment of the police is likely to grow if the child’s needs are not addressed. The child may sense victimization due to police actions.

I have worked with LEOs who often gained an offender’s cooperation when a child was present. Often the parent cooperated to avoid embarrassing himself or herself when given the opportunity to do so. When such situations occur, the parent appreciates being given an opportunity to maintain their dignity.

However, law enforcement is guided by the circumstances at hand. Officers must take custody of a subject immediately to ensure family members and/or the community are not endangered or when unforeseen circumstances may lead to the arrest of a parent in the presence of a child.

When an arrest occurs LEOs must determine if the arrestee is a parent and more importantly is this parent the primary caregiver. Quite often, the mother is the primary or only caregiver. Separation of a child from the primary caregiver needs to receive special attention. A parent’s arrest requires follow up to ensure the child is safe whether or not the child is present at the time of arrest.

The 14th Amendment forbids the government from depriving individuals of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that an exception exists regarding a “state-created danger.”

Pursuant to this exception, a duty to protect a child exists if an LEO or other government official leaves a person in a more dangerous situation than the one in which he or she was found. This exception requires the police take steps to ensure it cannot be found liable for creating a previously nonexistent danger or increasing the danger of a child whose wellbeing is not verified upon the arrest of a parent.

It is imperative to ensure that a child of an arrested parent understands that he or she is not to blame and has not done anything wrong. The child should be managed by a Child Welfare Service (CWS) to assist and oversee that a child is placed with a trusted and familiar adult or family member. This will add a level of stability to the situation and help the child cope with other changes occurring.

The study recommends that police departments train officers to identify and respond effectively to a child, whether or not he is present when a parent is arrested in order to help minimize potential trauma and support a child’s physical safety and well-being following an arrest.

The policy’s primary goal to minimize trauma experienced by the child who witnesses a parent’s arrest and the separation caused by the arrest. At the same time, police must maintain the arrest integrity and the safety of officers, suspects, and other involved individuals.

Coordination of law enforcement with a CWS and other partner organizations combines the two disciplines into a promising tool for meeting child and family needs, as well as the community’s public safety requirements.

The police department’s priority is to consider the totality of the circumstances involving the arrest as the CWS is primarily focused on the child’s needs. This approach permits law enforcement to protect the arrests integrity as it assists the CSW with safeguarding the child’s well being.

An important law enforcement measure needed to protect a child when his or her parent

will be arrested is to determine, when reasonably possible, whether a child is, or is reasonably likely to be, at the arrest location. Of course, this is not always possible. However, this approach should be a part of a pre-arrest assessment when possible.

To safeguard the child’s welfare during the parent’s arrest, police must determine if a child is present at the proposed arrest location or at another location. The study’s findings indicate that these steps are not routinely practiced. The study found that as of 2002, it was the exception that parents were asked about their responsibility for a child.

A survey concluded that only 13% of law enforcement agencies ask whether an arrestee has dependent children every time an arrest is made, whether or not children are present. Officers in a majority of law enforcement agencies do not ask about an arrestee’s children at the scene of a crime or when making an arrest.

If children are present during the arrest, officers in 42% of the departments surveyed will inquire about their care. If an arrestee offers information about children, officers in 39% of the departments will get involved. Twelve percent will ask about children when they see physical evidence at the scene (toys, clothes, baby bottles, etc.).

This IACP report on Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents indicates that law enforcement can help itself as well as the child by establishing a policy requiring that whenever an arrest is made, the existence of an arrestee’s child, whether present or not, be noted. This procedure will allow the department to document the action taken and will be the means that an outside agency may be used to monitor the child’s safety and well-being.

To learn more:


Jim Gaffney, MPA is Law Enforcement Today’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 30 years in varying capacities, culminating with Executive Officer and PIO. He is a member of (ILEETA), (IACP), and the nationally recognized FBI- LEEDA. Jim is a Certified Force Science Analyst. He mentors law enforcement’s next generation as an adjunct criminal justice professor in the New York City area. Jim brings the street into the classroom to prepare students today for their roles as police officers tomorrow. He is CEO of Bright Line Consulting and can be reached via www.brightlinepoliceconsulting.com.

Want More Stories Like This?

Subscribe to our email list and get notified each time we release a breaking news story.

Thank you for subscribing. Please check your inbox to confirm your email subscription.

Jim Gaffney

Jim Gaffney, MPA is Law Enforcement Today's risk management /police administration contributor. He is serving with a metro-New York police department for over 40 years in varying capacities, culminating as an administrator in the role of Executive Officer, Public Information Officer, Accreditation Officer, Incident Commander, and the Support Services Division. He is a member of ILEETA, IACP, and FBI –LEEDA. Jim is a Certified Force Science Analyst and has spoken at police seminars on the topic of Defeating the Active Shooter Before Anybody is Killed. He is an adjunct criminal justice professor in the New York City area. Jim brings the street into the classroom to prepare students today for their roles as police officers tomorrow.

Leave a comment


Be Informed

Get notified when "One Step Ahead" presented by Jay Wiley is Live- the Official Law Enforcement Today Radio Show

Thank you for subscribing. Please check your inbox to confirm your email address.