The U.S. Justice Department and police officials are directing their agencies to deal with children who are left behind following the arrests of parents, from surprise raids at family homes to roadside traffic stops, reports USA today. Few law enforcement agencies have policies that address the continuing care of children after such arrests, despite an estimated 1.7 million children who have at least one parent in prison. The number of children jumps to about 2.7 million when parents detained in local jails are included. “This is one of those situations whose time has come,” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
DOJ and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the nation’s largest organization of police officials, are beginning to roll out guidelines on the issue. It is an unusual attempt to shield children, who often are forgotten in the chaotic moments surrounding arrests, from unnecessary trauma related to their parents’ detention. Cole indicated that thousands of children could require such care. “In addition to the legal consequences, protection of a child in these and related situations should also be viewed as an ethical, moral and pragmatic responsibility that serves the short-term and long-term interests of both law enforcement … and the communities they serve,” says the IACP. This week, Cole directed the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service to begin adopting guidelines that would assist in ensuring the care of children involved in federal law enforcement operations.