What to do if your teen gets arrested

Estimated read: 7 minutes 

When your child has been arrested it is important that you make sure that they get fair treatment - no matter what they have been arrested for. You may feel angry about what has happened but try to stay calm so that you are able to support them.  

Key points: 

  • An ‘Appropriate Adult’ is someone that supports a young person when they have been arrested. This means you can observe the interview between your child and the police
  • You could be at the police station for up to 24 hours and it is important to get as much help and advice as you can while you are there. It is important to get legal representation
  • If the police are intending to take hair and saliva samples then they must have the agreement of the child and parent if no charges have been made
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If a child is arrested for committing a criminal offence and they are under 17, the police must inform the parents as soon as possible. Children who are arrested should be made aware of their rights when they are first brought to the police station. One of these rights will be that a parent or guardian can be informed of the arrest straight away. Children under the age of 17 also have the right to have an adult present at the police station. Children should also be allowed to talk to this adult in private if they wish to do so.

As a parent you can act as an ‘Appropriate Adult’ for your child 

An ‘Appropriate Adult’ is someone that supports a young person when they have been arrested. This means you can observe the interview between your child and the police, called a PACE interview (Police and Criminal Evidence Act interview), to ensure that it is carried out fairly and properly. Sometimes this role can be difficult because you may need to ask the police questions about what is happening. The National Appropriate Adult Network provides appropriate adult services in England and Wales. An ‘appropriate adult’ cannot provide legal advice. 

Getting legal representation  

You could be at the police station for up to 24 hours and it is important to get as much help and advice as you can while you are there. It is important to get legal representation. A solicitor can help prepare your child for the police interview and let them know what to say. Make sure the solicitor has enough time to talk with your child before the interview starts. If you do not have a solicitor, ask the custody officer at the police station if a duty solicitor has been called. You can ask for a solicitor to act on your child’s behalf free of charge. Be prepared to wait up to two hours for the solicitor to arrive at the police station. 

Contact your social worker 

If your child has a social worker you can contact them for advice and support. You can also contact your local Youth Offending Team for advice. 

What do I need to do on arrival? 

Check that ‘reviews’ have been carried out by asking to read the custody records. Reviews involve checking the young person’s health and that she or he has been offered food and drink. A review should happen after six hours, then every nine hours, for up to a maximum of 24 hours. But you can ask the police for food or drink for your child at any time if needed. 

Can I speak to my child alone? 

Yes, you can speak to your child in private before the interview. This is an opportunity to find out how they are feeling and if they are ready for interview. You don’t have to wait for the solicitor. 

What should I check? 

  • Your child has a solicitor. Explain to them how a solicitor can help with legal advice. 
  • The duty custody officer has given your child their rights, verbally and in writing. 
  • Your child is feeling well enough to be interviewed. How do they look? Are they upset? Have they been crying?   Are they under the effects of drugs or alcohol? If you don’t think your child is well enough you can ask for the interview to be delayed until they are. 

Searches 

The police do have the right to search a child under the age of 18 at the police station. If all clothing is to be removed during the search an adult of the same sex must carry out this search. Intimate searches can only be held in private where no one else can see the search and the child has the right to have an appropriate present.  

Fingerprints

The police can take fingerprints and photographs if the child is over 16. If the child is under 14 the police will need permission from the parent to proceed with fingerprinting. Children aged 15 and 16 will need to agree along with the parent’s agreement for fingerprinting to take place. Children over the age of 16 will be required to submit to fingerprints and photographs even if they have not agreed. 

DNA retention testing

If the police are intending to take hair and saliva samples then they must have the agreement of the child and parent if no charges have been made. If charges have been made then these samples can be taken without agreement from the child or parent. Blood and urine samples cannot be taken unless both the parent and the child have agreed to this. Even if the child has been charged they cannot be forced to give these intimate samples.

What happens after the interview? 

Following the interview your child may be charged and bailed, or bailed to return to the police station at a later date. If charged you should accompany him or her through the finger printing, photographing and DNA testing procedures. These can be taken without consent if charged, or following an admission of guilt. 

If bailed, countersign the bail form (47/3) and note the date, time and any conditions attached to the bail. You will be given a copy of the form. Check the returned property and countersign the property return form. 

What if I want to make a complaint? 

There is a complaints procedure available at the police station if you wish to make a complaint against any person or part of the process involved in the detention of your child. Ask your solicitor for advice on how to complain. The police should have a leaflet explaining rights that you can take home with you. 

Further resources 

You can speak to your local Youth Offending Team or Children’s Services at your Local Authority.  If you have a solicitor, they can give you advice. You can also speak to Prisoners Families Helpline on 0808 808 2003. Please read this advice article from Lawstuff on Police and the Law.   

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker. 

This page was updated on October 2021

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