Children should NOT have to witness their parent’s arrest

With all of the heart-breaking and horrifying police violence against Black and Brown people that has occurred in the United States, I keep thinking of the implications for children–especially Black children who are disproportionately affected by parental criminal justice involvement because of systemic racism. For example, in 2016, when Philando Castile was shot and killed in his car by police in the Twin Cities, his young daughter was in the back seat. Witnessing that police violence was traumatic and is likely to have a lasting effect on the child. In families that I have interviewed in the Midwest, I have heard many stories of police breaking into homes and handcuffing parents in front of their young children. I have heard of violent arrests that young children have witnessed and seen how distressed and stressed that children become after such events. Toxic stress, such as that caused by witnessing a parent’s violent arrest, can have lasting effects on children’s brain development as well as children’s cognitive, social, and emotional functioning.

Children should not be subjected to witnessing such violence–and in the vast majority of cases, such violence should not even occur in the first place. There are protocols that, when followed, protect children from witnessing police or sheriff deputy violence during arrest of a parent. Child sensitive arrest protocols have been developed and implemented in San Francisco since 2007. New York City’s Common Council recently passed legislation requiring the NYPD to use child-sensitive protocols, although they are still implementing the changes. And other cities are following suit. Every city and every county — every place that has law enforcement– should use protocols that protect children during a parent’s arrest.

Sheriffs are elected in most places–you can use your vote to insist on use of child-sensitive protocols by law enforcement. Here are links to previous stories that focus on this topic. The first story is written by one of my Ph.D. graduates–Dr. Cynthia Burnson, who now works at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency

The second link is for a toolkit that includes a set of guidelines that law enforcement officers can use to protect children.

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