In the Presence of Children

Best Practices for Conducting Arrests of Parents

According to the Department of Justice, it is estimated that more than 1.7 million American children currently have a parent in prison. The majority of these children witnessed their parent being arrested by police. This incident can have long-lasting physical, emotional, and psychological effects on children.

First_Do_No_Harm-CoverAddressing these issues, SFY and the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, recently released a report entitled First Do No Harm: Model Practices for Law Enforcement When Arresting Parents in the Presence of Children.

The International Association of Police Chiefs recently issued an important report, “Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents”, providing protocols for departments to use, helping to address the needs of children at the time, or just after, their parent’s arrest. IACP Report

…while often over-looked, the image of police, developed by children during these encounters, can have long-lasting effects on the overall views of law enforcement, and their future willingness to cooperate with police and to abide with the law.
Yoursy ‘Yost’ Zakhary, IACP President (IACP Report Safeguarding the Children of Arrested Parents, August 2014)

The manner in which officers arrest a parent and deal with children who are present can minimize the trauma and can have a positive effect on community perceptions of law enforcement.

Treating a child with compassion and thoughtfulness is not only the proper thing to do, it is also a hallmark of good policing that can have long-term positive benefits for the child and the community.
(IACP Report Safeguarding the Children of Arrested Parents, August 2014)

Materials for Law EnforcementScreen Shot 2014-09-18 at 5.29.19 PM

With support from the Sills Foundation, SFY has created special materials for officers to use when arresting a parent in the presence of a child. Child psychiatrists, psychologists, police officers, social workers, and most importantly, children themselves contributed to the development of these materials. Mindful that officer safety is paramount, these are guides that may mitigate the trauma experience by children, while not compromising the officer in this most difficult situation.

Thanks to the Sills Foundation, these materials are free. They include:

SFY can customize these materials to reflect the needs of individual departments. As an example, our Card for Parents for officers to give to another parent or guardian, can be translated into appropriate languages.

Protocol for Officers


Based on the protocols of police departments and the recent report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, SFY has developed a protocol for dealing with arrests of parents in the presence of children. We recommend this protocol be used as a “check off” list.

At the IACP 2014 Conference she spoke about the development of the SFPD's protocol.

At the IACP 2014 Conference, Deputy Chief Lyn Tomioka spoke about the development of the SFPD’s protocol.

Deputy Chief Lyn Tomioka of the San Francisco Police Department raised donations from command staff to purchase and "dress" these teddy bears.

Deputy Chief Lyn Tomioka of the San Francisco Police Department raised donations from command staff to purchase and “dress” these teddy bears.


Guide to Anticipating Children’s Responses at Time of Arrest

The reactions of children who witness the arrest of their parent vary considerably by age. The circumstances also have a great impact on children. Are they witnessing a Raid? Have they watched a Domestic Violence encounter? To aid officers in these trauma-filled situations, SFY has developed a guide to possible reactions by the age of the child. With support from psychiatrists, psychologists and police officers, the guide also includes the best way for an officer to respond to a child’s behavior in an age appropriate manner.

Booking Room Posters

These posters can be hung in booking rooms to remind parents to let officers know if they have children who might need care or a welfare check while they are under arrest.

Card for Parents

parentcard_imageMany parents and caretakers do not know that a child’s exposure to the trauma of parental arrest has long-term consequences. Police officers can play a critical role in explaining the importance of being mindful of a child’s needs following the event and providing a list of local resources. This simple card for parents can be translated and provides space for the department to add contact information for local sources of help.

Leave Behind Teddy Bears

SFY collected interviews from children whose parents had been arrested in their presence. Was there anything officer could do to make this difficult situation easier? Children responded by asking for something soft to hold that would help them feel safe and less alone.

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 5.33.42 PMNot to Arrest in Front of Child
While we leave the facts in the officer’s hands, SFY can help officers give a little boy or girl a Teddy Bear, something to hold. Please join us in making life a little better for children who believe they have lost everything.

Police Departments: Contact Us to Order Teddy Bears

Donate to Provide Departments with Teddy Bears: Donate Now

For more information, please email us.