For teachers and educational establishments

What is an appropriate adult?

How is child defined?

Police custody

Voluntary interviews

Stop and search

Want to stay informed?


What is an appropriate adult?

The term appropriate adult is now used in several different contexts, including:

  • Police custody: When a child or vulnerable person is detained in police custody, or agrees to a voluntary interview under caution (as required by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, Code C)
  • Voluntary interviews: When a child or vulnerable person is interviewed (questioned) voluntarily under caution (as required by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, Code C)
  • Stop and search: When a child or vulnerable person is subjected to a more thorough search that exposes intimate parts of their body (as required by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, Code A)
  • Scotland: While the above applies to England and Wales (and in a slightly modified way in Northern Ireland), Scotland is a separate and distinct jurisdiction where the role of the appropriate adult is significantly different (focusing entirely on communication)
  • Age-assessment: When an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child is subjected to an age-assessment interview be a local authority (as required by various case law).

Distinct from these legally-defined uses of the term, “appropriate adult” is also frequently used in a more informal manner, to simply refer to the need for an adult to be present, and for that adult not to be inappropriate.

Therefore, whenever the term is used, it is important to be clear about exactly what is meant.

The National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN) provides information and support solely on the role of the appropriate adult as defined by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

We are unable to provide guidance on:

  • other roles which have been given the same title
  • the wider safeguarding responsibilities of schools and other educational establishments
  • the role of the appropriate adult with suspects in Scotland.

How is child defined?

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) uses the term ‘juvenile’ rather than ‘child’ or ‘young person’. Under PACE, a juvenile is anyone up to and including 17 years of age.

NAAN refers to anyone up to and including 17 years of age, as per the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The minimum age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years old – so this is relevant to primary school children.


Police custody

The police are required to contact an appropriate adult whenever they detain a child in custody, as a suspect, as part of a criminal or terrorism investigation.

If you are seeking information about the role of an appropriate adult in police custody, we can provide support in a number of ways:


Voluntary interviews

There are specific legal thresholds that must be met for a child to be arrested and detained in police custody.

Where these are not met, the police can still ask to interview someone as a suspect ‘under caution’.

This is variously referred to as a:

  • voluntary interview
  • voluntary attendance
  • caution plus 3

They may take place at a police station or other setting.

An appropriate adult must be present whenever a child or vulnerable person is interviewed (questioned) as a suspect in a criminal or terrorism investigation. This includes when that person has not been arrested but has agreed voluntarily to be interviewed under caution. This is not a matter of choice for the child or vulnerable person. It is a requirement on police. This applies even if they choose not to answer any of the questions.  

Questioning in educational establishments

Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act Code C:

  • As soon as the police have grounds to suspect that a person has committed an offence, they must read the ‘caution’ and ensure the person understands it, before any questions are put to them.
  • The caution is not necessary when police ask questions for other purposes (for example, solely to establish someone's identity or their ownership of a certain vehicle, or in in the proper and effective conduct of a search, e.g. to determine the need to search in the exercise of powers of stop and search or to seek co-operation while carrying out a search).
  • But if initial questions, become questioning about a person's involvement or suspected involvement in a criminal offence, the caution (in the presence of an AA) is required.
  • Under 18’s should only be interviewed in their place of education in exceptional circumstances (11.16)
  • The principal, or their nominee, must agree to the interview (11.16)
  • Every effort should be made to notify the child’s parent, or person responsible for their welfare, of the police’s intention to interview (11.16)
  • Reasonable time should be provided to enable the appropriate adult to be present (11.16)
  • In determining who the appropriate adult will be, priority must be given to the parent, guardian or, if the juvenile is in the care of a local authority or voluntary organisation, a person representing that authority or organisation (1.7)
  • The principal of the school, or their nominee, can only act in the role if waiting for the appropriate adult would cause unreasonable delay. The allegation must also not be an offence against the school (11.16)

For further information about the AA role in voluntary interviews:


Stop and search

There are three different levels of search, involving:

  • Removal of jackets, outer garments and gloves (JOG) – similar to the powers of schools
  • A more thorough search (MTS) – can be done out of public view, in a police vehicle, or in a police station
  • Exposure of intimate parts of the body (EIP) – can only be done out of public view or in a police station

Exposure of intimate parts of the body

An appropriate adult is only required for a search that exposes intimate parts of the body (EIP search).

The role of an appropriate adult is the same as it is when a child or vulnerable person is detained in police custody and subjected to a strip search.

Police are expected to consult a supervisor prior to carrying out an EIP, to explore the reasons why it is necessary and proportionate in the circumstances. The supervisor’s role in this context is to support and encourage good decision making by providing suitable challenge.

For more information about searches that expose intimate parts of the body, and the related role of an appropriate adult, we recommend the following resources:

Child Q

In March 2022, there was intense media interest in the case of Child Q. Child Q was subjected by police to a search which exposed intimate parts of her body. The search occured on school premises, after teachers had called the police because they believed Child Q smelled of cannabis. 

In light of this particularly disturbing case, we recommend the following additional resources:

The IOPC has recommended that the smell of cannabis alone should not be considered reasonable grounds for a search:

Please note that NAAN cannot provide guidance on the overall safeguarding responsibilities of educational establishments.


Staying Informed

We are currently discussing how we can act further in this area, through policy work and/or practical support. If you would like to be informed of any developments, please register your interest. 

Register your interest

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