Protecting Children of Arrested Parents: Steps for Developing and Implementing an Effective Policy

In 2010, approximately 2.7 million children under the age of 18 in the United States had a parent incarcerated in jail or prison. That figure, the equivalent of 1 in every 28 U.S. children, is a staggering increase from 1 in 125 children only 25 years earlier. For decades, U.S. law enforcement agencies overlooked the potential impacts that parental arrest and incarceration could have on a child’s emotional, psychological, or physical well-being. Currently, many law enforcement agencies still do not have specific policies or protocols in place to ensure the safeguarding of children present at the scene of a parent’s arrest. As a result, little is done during most incidents to protect children against the potentially traumatic consequences that can occur after witnessing a parent being arrested. However, according to a report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), “[p]arental incarceration is now recognized as an ‘Adverse Childhood Experience’ that increases a child’s risk of negative outcomes in adulthood, including alcoholism; depression; illegal drug use; domestic violence and other criminal behavior; health-related problems; and suicide.”