A teddy in the trunk

April 11, 2017
Police officer standing at the driver's window of a car.

What happens when a child witnesses a parent’s arrest? And how can we reduce the psychological trauma of this experience? For the past year, University of Minnesota undergrad Tiffany Hamidjaja has been seeking answers.

Hamidjaja, a senior majoring in psychology and sociology of law, criminality, and deviance, has been conducting research in a unique U of M lab.

Headed by Rebecca Shlafer, a child psychologist in the Medical School, the lab supports research projects of College of Liberal Arts undergraduates. Together, they’re looking from all angles at what happens to the children of those who are incarcerated in America.

Today, one in five children are present at a parent’s arrest. And these children are themselves six times more likely to later be incarcerated.

Hamidjaja’s research focuses on steps that police officers can take to decrease the negative impact of parental arrest on children—things like keeping a stuffed animal or snacks in the police car, arresting the parent away from the child, using appropriate language, and enhancing arrest databases to include the steps taken when a child is present at an arrest.

Last year she contacted police departments throughout the Twin Cities about their policies around arrests and children. She discovered that, while none had any official policies, most were very open to the conversation and asked for educational materials as the research moves forward. This year, she’s expanding her research to the whole state.

“We are on the leading edge of research and are building a foundation on this topic,” Hamidjaja says. “One of the best things about our lab is that the science translates into policy implications and actually makes a difference."

Read more on how U students are researching the criminal justice system’s impact on children.