Children of Arrested and Incarcerated Parents:
California Research Bureau highlights state and local policy changes needed to ensure the safety and well-being of these children

An estimated 835,000 children in California have a parent in jail, prison, or on parole or probation at any one time.  Many more experience the arrest of a parent.  In March 2000, the California State Library’s California Research Bureau (CRB) published Children of Incarcerated Parents, by Charlene Simmons.  This report, prepared at the request of then-Assembly member Kerry Mazzoni, focused the state policy spotlight on this largely invisible group of children who experience tremendous difficulty and upheaval when their parents are arrested and incarcerated, and appear in many state-funded systems such as foster care and the juvenile justice system.

This initial report triggered a five-year-long research and education project in the CRB, resulting in a total of five reports and a number of policy seminars.  One of these reports, In Danger of Falling Through the Cracks: Children of Arrested Parents by Marcus Nieto, summarized the results of a survey sent to all California local police departments, county sheriff’s departments, and social welfare departments.  Of the many important findings, perhaps the most significant was that two-thirds of the responding law enforcement departments reported they had no written policy outlining their officers’ responsibilities for minor children at the time of a parent’s arrests.

On April 18, 2006, the California Research Bureau held a one-day summit to highlight the challenges and opportunities in keeping children safe at the time of a parent’s arrest.  Over 150 participants from more than 20 counties and state agencies convened at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Sacramento to learn what is known, both in California and elsewhere, about children’s safety at the time of arrest, including how various jurisdictions are responding to the need for a coordinated and consistent response between law enforcement and child welfare services.  Presenters from several counties, Oregon, and the Yale Child Study Center discussed their approaches to preventing trauma and providing support for children when their parents are arrested.  The CRB will soon be publishing a policy brief based on these summit presentations.

Participants were welcomed to the Summit by Assembly member Pedro Nava, who authored legislation last year giving parents who are arrested the right to make two phone calls from jail to arrange for their children’s care.  Assembly member Nava has introduced legislation this year (AB 1942) encouraging local jurisdictions to develop law enforcement protocols and requiring the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission to develop guidelines and training for keeping children safe when a parent is arrested.  This legislation is based on prior research and policy roundtables convened by the CRB on children of arrested and incarcerated parents.  The one-day summit provided additional input and feedback to inform state policy development on this issue.

Both the summit and prior work by the CRB on children of arrested and incarcerated parents were made possible by the generous support of the Zellerbach Family Foundation.

For more information on this issue, please contact Charlene Simmons, assistant director, at 651-9759, or Ginny Puddefoot, senior research and policy specialist, at 653-7653.

 

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