Feds look to 'safeguard' children

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ST. THOMAS - A federal policy has been created to limit the trauma children face when a parent is arrested, and the U.S. Attorney's office hopes local law enforcement make use of it.

"I hope that this policy and the information it provides will assist law enforcement in the Virgin Islands better understand how the arrest of a parent can adversely affect a child, and provide strategies for minimizing a child's trauma in a positive way," United States Attorney Ronald Sharpe said in a written statement.

The policy, titled "Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents," provides strategies for law enforcement to improve their procedures and positively impact the communities they serve, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The document is a "model policy," a set of guidelines and training tools for local and federal law enforcement and child welfare agencies to use.

It was developed by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, in partnership with the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

"Limiting a child's exposure to potentially traumatic events is an operationally sound and necessary law enforcement strategy," Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole said in the release. "It is also consistent with law enforcement's duty to serve the community as a whole. It is an important part of the principles of community policing, problem solving, and conflict resolution."

The policy project is part of a White House Domestic Policy Council initiative focused on reducing trauma experienced by children who have parents in prison or jail.

"This is a broad-based undertaking given the myriad of situations in which parental arrest, incarceration, or both can have a negative impact on a child's physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being," the policy's preface states. "Parental incarceration is now recognized as among the 'adverse childhood experiences' that increase a child's risk of negative outcomes in adulthood, including alcoholism; depression; illegal drug use; domestic violence and other criminal behavior; health-related problems; and suicide, among others. Minimizing the trauma experienced by children at the time of their parent's arrest has the potential to lessen this risk, improving outcomes in the short and long-run."

The policy comprises four main aspects:

- Law enforcement agencies should have a cooperative agreement with local child welfare services agency and any other organizations responsible for safeguarding children from harm.

- Partner organizations must meet regularly with law enforcement to exchange information on cases and evaluate the effectiveness of joint operations.

- Law enforcement should designate a liaison responsible for follow-up to support a child whose parent was arrested.

- Officers should be given a list of partner organizations so they can take advantage of services provided through the agency's agreement when needed.

The policy also encourages pre-arrest planning for law enforcement to avoid the child being at the arrest location and what to do if a child is present. The policy details how an officer should handle the aftermath of the arrest of a parent, ensuring that the child is given to the care of an appropriate adult or arrangements are made to collect the child from daycare or school.

Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents is a resource for law enforcement to strengthen their existing policies and gain greater understanding of the impact a parent's arrest has on a child, according to Justice.

In addition to the development of the model policy, the International Association of Chiefs of Police is developing a training curriculum that will be delivered through webinars, training sessions and conferences.

"Police officers are confronted with significant challenges and responsibilities when children are present or in need of care and supervision following the arrest of a parent," Bureau of Justice Assistance Director Denise O'Donnell said in a prepared statement. "We are pleased to partner with IACP on a new model policy that provides sound, practical, and child-focused guidance on how police can join with their community partners to best meet the needs of children in these difficult circumstances."

Assistant V.I. Police Commissioner Thomas Hannah said he heard the report was coming out, but has not yet had an opportunity to review it.

"I know officers in the police department already try to limit the trauma to children," Hannah said. "It is very traumatic to see to see a parent taken away in handcuffs."

He said how the police interact with children in an arrest situation is something that has always been included in the department's in-service training for officers.

The policy is available at www.bja.gov/Publications/IACP-SafeguardingChildren.pdf.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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