Last week, Pact hosted a round table event to launch ‘Collateral Damage’, an inquiry into the impact of police home raids on the children and siblings of offenders in England. This research shines a much needed light upon the hidden victims of crime – children of offenders – who through no fault of their own are caught up within the traumatic and stressful criminal justice process.

It is well-documented that the imprisonment of a family member can have significant adverse effects upon children: for example they are two-three times more likely to experience mental health problems and are significantly more likely to suffer poverty, homelessness and educational issues. However, the new research, published last week, demonstrates that the impact of the criminal justice system upon innocent children begins much earlier than the imprisonment stage: experiencing a home raid is a distressing, traumatic and disempowering experience for children, which can significantly increase the risk of mental health problems. A child who was interviewed during the research said “I felt sick because I was mentally unstable…There was no part of life left in me. I felt dead.”

A child’s experience of a home raid is likely to be the child’s first experience of the criminal justice system, and therefore the way it is conducted can have a profound impact upon their attitude towards the police. The research found that for some children, it resulted in “a general hate for the police” – not because of the fact of the home raid, but “for the way [the police] did it”. This demonstrates the alienation which these young people may feel towards the police and other authority figures, which in turn could lead to offending later in life. Statistics show that 6 in 10 boys with a father in prison will go to prison later in life, and it therefore is essential we do all we can to ensure these children and young people are supported and do not turn to criminal behaviour themselves.

Last week’s event brought together individuals from the police, various organisations who work in the criminal justice field, and academics. Everyone at the event agreed that more needed to be done to mitigate the negative effects associated with home raids. It is clear that home raids are an essential part of policing practice, but we must find a way of conducting home raids in a way that is less traumatic to children. Police should be provided with basic training in how to communicate with children: simple techniques such as getting down to the child’s level, removing their hat, and turning down their radio can all have a huge impact upon the experiences of children.

The possibilities of police leaving a “calling card” after conducting a home raid were also explored. These calling cards would provide information regarding next steps and agencies that the families could contact for support. A scheme like this would combat the issue of families feeling confused, abandoned and helpless.

If police are made aware of the effects that a home raid can have on children through training, and if they build best practice in order to mitigate these negative effects, then not only will this improve outcomes for these vulnerable children but it would also help to tackle the issue of inter-generational offending and enable police to foster a much more positive relationship with these young people as they grow into adults.

If you know a child or young person who has been affected by this issue, please contact us on 0207 735 9535 or email our Children and Young People’s Advocate on Katherine.Copperthwaite@prisonadvice.org.uk. We can offer training and resources to professionals such as teachers, social workers and police. In addition, we provide one-to-one mentoring and youth group support to children aged 11-17 across London who are affected by familial imprisonment. To find out more, contact our Youth Worker on Kristina.dale@prisonadvice.org.uk. You can also show your support by signing our Children’s Charter.