Five Strategies to Safeguard Children during Parental Arrest

The arrest of a parent can, and often does, have significant lasting effects on children, whether they witness the arrest or not. But, what is the scope of the problem? There are no available statistics for the number of children affected, because this information is not typically captured in arrest reports. However, nearly 1.7 million children in the U.S. have an incarcerated parent. This number represents prison only, and doesn’t include numbers of parents in jail. A growing body of research links parental arrest to trauma and negative life outcomes for children including: higher risks for alcoholism; depression; illegal drug use; domestic violence and other criminal behavior; health-related problems; and suicide.

To mitigate trauma to children and youth during investigative, tactical, patrol, and arrest operations, consider these five tips:

1. Question and handcuff the parent out of sight and sound of the child(ren).
2. Don’t leave the arrest scene until the child/youth is in the care of a caregiver.
3. If appropriate, give the parent an opportunity to reassure the child(ren) and explain what is happening.
4. Run background and child welfare checks on identified caregivers to ensure they are capable.
5. Follow -up by collaborating with community partners to ensure the continued safety and well-being of the child(ren).

To learn more about trauma-informed approaches to protecting children of arrested parents, watch our recently archived webinar “Protecting Children of Arrested Parents: Using a Trauma-Informed Approach.” In the webinar, panelists from the Philadelphia Police Department and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provide best practice recommendations and strategies to prevent trauma to children of arrested parents. This webinar was the first in a series of webinars IACP will be hosting, in collaboration with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), Office of Justice Programs, U. S. Department of Justice.

For more information on the webinar series or on IACP/BJA’s Children of Arrested Parents project, visit or contact Sabrina Rhodes at 1-800-THE-IACP x831 or

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