As a parent, there are few worse things than receiving a phone call from a police officer letting you know that your child has been arrested. It’s scary, confusing, and even downright infuriating. But this is not the time to let your emotions get the best of you. A swift and strategic response is required.

4 Steps You Should Take

Juvenile arrest rates peaked in 1996 and have since declined by 75 percent. With that being said, an estimated 1 million minors are arrested annually, with consequences ranging from embarrassment to serious long-term legal ramifications and jail time. If your child is arrested, it’s imperative that you act swiftly. Here are several steps you should take:

1. Stay Calm and Rational

As soon as you hear the words “arrested” or “in custody,” your heart starts pounding and your parental instincts kick into high gear. For most parents, the initial assumption is that they got the wrong kid. After all, my child would never do something like that! But now is not the time to get super defensive or accusatory. Do your best to stay calm and rational until you’ve gathered some of the basic facts. Ask the officer if you’re able to come down to the jail and see your child. Your rights as a parent could be limited based on the jurisdiction.

“Though some states require parental consultation for questioning, you have no federal right to be present when your child is questioned. Your child has a right to have a lawyer, but not a parent, present,” University of Arkansas School of Law professor Stephen Sheppard writes. “Many departments will allow the parent to be present, but it’s up to the investigating police officer or that officer’s superiors.”

As tough as it is, stay rational and wait for the process to unfold. A lot will happen in the first 24 to 48 hours. Having a clear mind is paramount to achieving a favorable outcome. 

2. Contact an Attorney

While you may or may not have a right to be present when your child is questioned, you absolutely need to hire an attorney to be there with your child. (And if you have a chance to talk with your child over the phone, encourage them not to say anything to investigators or law enforcement until they have an attorney present.)

When hiring an attorney, you don’t want just any old lawyer. It’s critically important that you hire the right person for the job. You want an experienced juvenile defense lawyer who specializes in helping minors.

3. Be Present for Hearings

While you may or may not be able to be present for your child’s interviewing and questioning, you can absolutely show up for hearings and court proceedings – and it’s wise to do so. This will help you gather all of the facts as they’re presented. Try to remain as objective as possible during these hearings. As the evidence is rolled out, you’ll likely gain a new perspective. 

If this is your child’s first charge as a minor, any reasonable court of law’s first priority will be helping your child get focused and avoid going down a bad path. The judge’s motivation is to make it so that he never has to see your child again. Jail time is not the goal – correction is. 

4. Prioritize Good Communication

You don’t have a ton of control over what happens after your child is arrested. Hiring a good lawyer is the one thing you can do. Other than that, your main priority is good communication. If your child is released back into your custody, figure out the best way to parent them through this time. There obviously have to be consequences, but be careful not to push too hard right now. (There’s plenty of time for punishment later on.)

If your child is 16 or older, it’s possible that their arrest could stay on their record for some time. This might affect their ability to get into a school and/or pursue a certain type of career. Thus, it’s worth paying for an experienced attorney who can work to keep black marks off your child’s record. Communicate frequently and often with the attorney to ensure things are moving in a positive direction at all times.

Putting it All Together

It’s never good when a child is arrested. Whether they broke a law or simply found themselves in a bad situation at the wrong time, it’s important that you (as the parent) do what you can to hold your teenager’s hand through this tough time. 

As mentioned, this starts with hiring a juvenile criminal attorney to spearhead your child’s defense. Choose wisely and patiently let the lawyer do their job.