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Helping Children When a Parent is Arrested

Posted February 7, 2019

The Department of Justice estimates that more than 1.7 million American children currently have a parent in prison, many of whom witnessed their parent’s arrest. Just recently, a viral video showed a Florida toddler walking towards police officers with her hands up while her father was being detained by police. This has many debating; how do we protect children during such a scary time?

According to New Mexico’s Children of Arrested Parents (CAP), the following are ways to help children during the arrest and incarceration of a parent:

  • Assure the child that the parent’s arrest is not their fault
  • Inform them what is happening to their parent in an age appropriate-way.
  • Tell them if they can have contact with their parent, and if so, when and how
  • Let them know where and with whom they will be staying
  • Advise what will stay the same and what will be different while their parent is under arrest
  • Let them know it is OK to still love their parent, and it is OK to be angry sometimes too
  • Encourage them to express, in safe and healthy ways, their feelings about their parents and their parent’s arrest
  • Allow them to visit and maintain contact with the arrested parent as much as possible, when permitted and appropriate
  • Provide stability and consistency in their living situations and daily routines
  • Help them feel safe
  • Explain that people make choices in life that lead to different consequences

Police and other organizations are also joining in on the conversation. With the collaborative efforts of psychiatrists, psychologists, police officers, social workers and children themselves, Strategies for Youth have created several important materials including a Guide to Anticipating a Child’s Response at the Time of Arrest that helps police understand perceptions of children by age and appropriate responses.

Many other resources have also been created for children of incarcerated parents such as:

While reactions can vary greatly by age and the circumstances surrounding the arrest, it’s important to not overlook the possible physical, emotional and psychological effects that such an event can have on children. Emotions can range from fear that their parent will be hurt to anger towards police officers. Because of this, both police and caregivers have a duty to respond to children’s concerns honestly and in an age-appropriate way. As always, A 2nd Chance Bail Bonds is here to help you navigate an arrest and work towards reuniting children with their parents.

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