Familial and trained AAs

The PACE Act 1984 instructs police to first seek a parent to perform the AA role. If neither a parent or social worker is available, they can ask anyone else who is over 18. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 makes it a statutory duty for Youth Offending Teams to ‘ensure the provision’ of AAs for children.

The result is that organised appropriate adult schemes only support around one third of arrested children. But who is best placed to fulfil the appropriate adult role?

Some argue that an unreasonable expectation is being placed on parents. How can they be expected to safeguard a child effectively against breaches of the immense PACE Act and complex Codes of Practice? This is even more challenging given the fact that it’s an emotional experience when your child is arrested – perhaps especially if it is the first time or a serious allegation.

In contrast, under the NAAN national standards new appropriate adults should be given 20 hours of training and two shadowing visits to police custody. Whether they are paid or a volunteer, they have a professional relationship with the child rather than an emotional one. Over time, they have opportunity to develop a deep understanding of the PACE Codes and the confidence to challenge police practice.

However, others argue that parental responsibility is a decisive factor. Furthermore, no matter how well a professional AA) is trained, it is unlikely that they will know the child and their individual needs. And of course, there is the argument that the taxpayer does not have to pay for parents.

When considered objectively, academic evidence certainly suggests that parents are not effective appropriate adults. As we highlighted in a recent literature review, the use of family members as AAs for children is fraught with difficulty. Problems with the use of parents as AAs for children include; a misunderstanding of the AA role, the threat of physical violence towards their child, pressure on their child to confess, aggression towards police and their involvement in ongoing family conflicts. Even the best intentioned, most educated and assertive are challenged by a lack of knowledge and their emotional state. Some parents will be naturally compliant or hostile towards the police – neither of which is likely to deliver the best outcomes for a child.

NAAN’s view is that, while parents cannot be expected to understand PACE, they should not be excluded from the process (unless they are genuinely inappropriate).

Parents hold knowledge about an individual child that may be critical to ensuring they can participate effectively in the process. Professional appropriate adults have an understanding of custody procedures, rights and entitlements that is critical to providing an effective safeguard.

Rather than making an either/or decision, NAAN would like to see policy and practice develop to support a collaborative model. Such a model would be dynamic, allowing information and responsibilities to be shared across parents and providers. This might involve parents sharing information with a professional before they attend, or even AA services coaching a parent as they take on the role.

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