A new (November 2016) report from the charity Pact which provides support to prisoners and their families: Collateral Damage: The impact on children whose homes are raided by the police, makes for compelling reading.
Inspired by Our Voice, a Pact project that works with children and young people affected by familial imprisonment, the study aims to raise awareness and inform best practice amongst police and policy makers to minimise the harm and trauma that can be caused to the estimated 80,000 children per year who experience police home raids when a parent or family member is arrested.
As part of the report, Freedom of Information (FOI) requests were submitted to all 39 English police forces. The responses showed that only one provided any training that raised awareness of the issues of children being present at arrest. Forces were also asked to supply details of the risk assessment procedure that is undertaken before a raid on a residential property. Only 2 of the 39 made any reference to children being in the property, and both of these included children in the same category as dogs and animals.
The project lists four key findings :
- Innocent children and young people who witness a home raid are likely to be traumatised by the incident, and develop strong negative views of the police.
- Possibly as many as 80,000 children experience this each year. But the exact scale of the issue is still unknown.
- At the core of this challenge is the tension between the needs of the police to enforce the law with regards to other family members in a shared property and Article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: “Children have a right to privacy. The law should protect them from attacks against their way of life, their good name, their families and their homes.”
- Although the problem seems, at first sight intractable, it appears that significant improvements could be made to protect vulnerable children and young people at minimal cost; illustrated by the work of the Chief of Police in San Francisco who has instigated a trauma-informed approach to arrests and raids, which is sensitive to the impact on the wider family.
The San Francisco approach involves all police now receiving child development training, which includes getting down to a child’s level; giving teenagers time; letting the offender say goodbye; and handing over teddies.
During the inquiry, the testimonies of families, children and young people who have experienced home raids first hand were gathered; two of their statements are reproduced below:
A young man who was interviewed talked about the day his home was raided when he was 12 years old.
They told me to get off my bed. They shoved me in a room and told me not to move off the sofa. It was like I had done something wrong. I felt like an object. I was being pushed around. I felt very, very small. It was a very traumatic experience and I was just really, really scared. I didn’t know what was going on.
A mother whose house was raided in the early hours of the morning when her husband was arrested, wrote about the impact it had on her young daughter who was in bed at the time:
She still has nightmares that are so bad she wakes up trembling and shaking. We were offered no support by the Police or other agencies. I know the police have a job to do and I know that my husband is where he should be, but my daughter didn’t ask for any of this.
Conclusions and recommendations
Pact CEO, Andy Keen-Downs concluded:
As a Society, we depend on the courage and professionalism of the police to protect us and uphold the rule of law, and we understand that sometimes this means breaking down doors or entering family homes. But what this report confirms for us is that there is an urgent need to recognise the harm that this causes to children who, through no fault of their own, go through the terrifying and traumatising experience of their homes being raided, sometimes in the middle of the night, and of a parent or family member being arrested, handcuffed, and taken away. It is quite shocking that there is no automatic follow up support offered to these children. We therefore need to ensure that we have adequate safeguards in place and we invite Police & Crime Commissioners, police forces, magistrates and others to work with us to find solutions.
The report makes four key recommendations:
1. Identifying the scale
The police, led by the National Police Chief’s Council’s lead for Policing Children and Young People, should run a data project to identify the scale of this problem. This could be done on a minimal budget using sample areas.
2. Research to identify what would make a difference
Academics should undertake further research to pinpoint the key factors that contribute to the trauma so that police can be reliably informed of what will really make a difference.
3. Programme to support youth advocates
Charities working with young people or with families of prisoners should seek to provide targeted support for this forgotten group – not only listening to them, but also supporting them to become advocates for themselves and their peers.
4. Training for police
The police, led by the College of Policing, should do more to increase police awareness of the traumatic impact on children and the long-term effects of this.