What Happens When Your Child is Arrested?

As a parent, it is extremely frightening to receive notification that your child has been arrested. Under California law, law enforcement is not obligated to notify parents that their child has been detained, arrested, or interrogated. The law only mandates that parents be notified when their child is transported to juvenile hall. Each law enforcement agency may have its own internal policies for notifying parents earlier, but those may vary greatly from agency to agency.

As discussed in the overview of the juvenile court process, police have several options open to them when arresting a youth. In general, youth who have been charged with more serious crimes, and youth whose parents are unable to respond quickly to notification by the police, are transported to juvenile hall by the police — at which point the parents are notified.

If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one for your child when his/her case is filed in court. You can find more information on your child’s right to an attorney here.

How can parents assist a child who has been arrested?

Don’t argue with the police

Remember that the police have a responsibility to the public. It is their job to enforce the law and respond to complaints of unlawful behavior. Even if you disagree with the police, or disapprove of their conduct, confronting or engaging the police as a parent can result in a less desirable outcome for your child.

If you believe there is an issue with how the police handled your child’s situation, you should consult with the attorney who represents the child for guidance.

Be available for a probation interview

If you receive notification that your child is being transported to juvenile hall, the county probation department will contact you to ask for background information about your child. To ensure the proper care and safety for your child, it is important that you make yourself available for this interview, and that you provide the probation department with the information they will need.  It is generally handled by telephone. Informing probation of any medical conditions, medications, disabilities, and special education services that your child needs could greatly benefit your child if the probation officer determines to keep the youth in juvenile hall.  But also, in some cases, what you say in the interview could help to convince the probation officer that you can provide sufficient support and supervision so that the child does not need to stay detained.  Please note that any information that you provide the probation officer about your child’s behavior will be documented in a report that will be provided to the judge and prosecutor assigned to your child’s case.

PJDC Youth Sentenced as Adults
Attorney and Youth

Provide support while the case is pending

Parenting adolescents — especially those prone to impulsive and defiant behavior — can be confusing and stressful. Even though it may be tempting to react negatively to your child’s arrest, if your child continues to be detained, it is crucial that you to provide continued emotional support by making frequent visits or writing letters. If you cannot make the scheduled visiting hours for juvenile hall, ask the probation officer to arrange a “special” visit at another time, or let your child’s attorney know so that the attorney can assist in arranging alternate times to ensure that your child has frequent contact with you.

While your child is detained, if you notice any changes in behavior or mood, please notify your child’s attorney immediately. Regardless of whether your child remains in detention or is released, counseling for your child and for the family as a whole may greatly assist you in successfully navigating this difficult time.

Gather documentation and potential character witness information

The more information your child’s attorney has about your child’s personal, medical, and educational history, the better that attorney can advocate for your child. If your child has any current accommodations at school (think 504 plan) or an Individual Education Program (IEP), please bring copies of these records to the first court date — even if the services are no longer being provided at the school.

In addition, providing a list of your child’s current medications and  information about the particular issues the medications are being used to treat can be quite important.

Also, if there are people who may have information about what happened in the case, or coaches, pastors, teachers, employers, neighbors, probation officers or others who can serve as character witnesses or voice support for your child, it is helpful to provide the attorney with the full names and contact information for each of them.

Make sure you understand the conditions of release or probation

Some youth may be released from juvenile hall after the case is filed with certain rules that must be followed while the case is pending. Other youth may be ordered to follow numerous terms of probation upon resolution of the case. It is important to comply with any and all conditions of release or probation in order to avoid additional problems.

Whatever the particular conditions of your child’s release or probation, make sure you review them closely. If you do not understand something, or it would be difficult or impossible for the child to do what has been ordered for any of the conditions, contact the child’s attorney.

“Children who commit crimes lack the moral and psychological underpinnings of adults, but they’re also more resilient, so it is very possible to change. And it is only through rehabilitating such children and youth that we are able to learn how to prevent a similar situation from happening to others.”

— Ishmael Beah, international bestselling author of A Long Way Gone and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Advocate for Children Affected by War, member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division; former child soldier in Sierra Leone