15.220 - Child Welfare

Effective Date: 11/21/2007


The State Legislature believes parents should have the right to exercise control over their children unless the child is the victim of abuse or neglect.

Police personnel are often the first responders to cases involving children and youth who have been neglected, are in need of adult supervision, or simply need someone to talk to. SPD personnel serve as role models to these kids and often make time to stop by and visit with them. The Department also has a number of programs that operate independently or in conjunction with other service providers to assist youth. Many of our personnel volunteer through their churches, athletic leagues, or other recognized youth programs such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Scouting, etc. It is evident that the Department and its personnel are committed to this effort. It is well recognized that dealing with a youth who is troubled or in need of services not only takes a great deal of time but also a degree of expertise and professional training in order to be effective. The Department recognizes and encourages its personnel to offer encouragement and assistance to those children in need and to utilize the services and expertise of specialized units within SPD and others such as DSHS. The Department also commends those officers and support staff who volunteer their time in recognized programs. However, the Department cautions personnel not to exceed their capabilities or authority in handling youth.


The Seattle Police Department will work with the Department of Social and Health Services/Child Protective Services and all other related organizations in combating, reporting and investigating Child Abuse, Missing Children, Runaway Children and Children in Dangerous Circumstances.

Keeping in mind the philosophical statement made in this manual section, personnel are generally prohibited from providing any level of service or assistance to youth that is outside of the scope of Department policy or State Law. If a Department employee sees an avenue to assist a youth that is not covered by Department policy or covered by statute, they will screen the incident with their sergeant who will in turn screen the incident with an on duty Lieutenant. If a decision is made to provide a service or assistance outside the scope of Department policy or State Law, the incident will be screened with Child Protective Services. If CPS authorizes the proposed action, the incident will be fully documented.

I. Definitions

A. "Child," "juvenile," and "youth": means any unemancipated individual who is under the chronological age of eighteen years.

B. "Abused or neglected child": The injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, negligent treatment, or maltreatment of a child by any person under circumstances that indicate that the child's health, welfare, and safety is harmed.

C. Extended family member: An adult who is a grandparent, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, uncle, aunt, or first cousin with whom the child has a relationship and is comfortable and who is willing and available to care for the child.

D. Parent: The person or persons who have the legal right to custody of the child. “Parent” includes custodians, guardians, or birth parents.

E. Child in a Dangerous Circumstance: This is the subjective opinion of the officer, based on the child’s physical condition, environment, time of day and situation where the child is encountered.

II. Agencies Involved in Child Welfare

A. Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS)/Child Protective Services (CPS): DSHS was created to unite related statewide social and health service programs within a single agency. DSHS programs are designed to protect the general public, as well as persons who are unable to fully care for themselves or meet their own basic needs. The purpose of CPS is to protect children from child abuse and neglect. DSHS/CPS will be contacted whenever an officer has a child in custody resulting from a report of Abuse/Neglect, a Runaway or Child in a Dangerous Circumstance. DSHS/CPS will screen all placements of a child under these circumstances.

B. Crisis Residential Center (CRC): A Crisis Residential Center is a secure or semi-secure facility established pursuant to RCW 74.13.032. A CRC will take a child using this criteria:

1. The child is 12-17 years old.

2. The child is a reported runaway, is found in dangerous circumstances, or is in violation of a local curfew.

3. The child must not have any outstanding warrants or be in need of immediate medical or psychiatric attention.

C. Approved Youth Shelter: An Approved Youth Shelter means a facility under contract to DSHS, providing room and board in a supervised living arrangement, normally in a group or dormitory setting, to eligible recipients. Verify a shelter’s status with DSHS prior to placing the child.

III. General

A. When the Seattle Police Department receives a report of child abuse or neglect, state law (RCW 26.44.030) mandates the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is notified within 24 hours in emergency cases (i.e., where the child is endangered). In all other cases, DSHS must be notified within 72 hours. DSHS is required to notify law enforcement in the same manner when they receive the initial complaint.

B. Whenever officers investigate the serious injury of a child involving questionable circumstances, they will contact the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit.

C. Members of the community who want to report Child Abuse or neglect may contact either law enforcement or Child Protective Services.

D. Officers will complete a Missing Person Report (form 5.1.2) whenever there is a complaint from a parent that their child has left home under circumstances where the parent believes the child has run away, or when receiving a report from a supervising agency that a child has run away from placement.

IV. Investigating Child Abuse

A. Child Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation is described in RCW 26.44.020.

B. Officers responding to reports of child abuse should follow procedures for Primary Investigations. The officers’ first concern should be the immediate health and well being of the child. The officer will call for a medic unit or arrange for transportation of the child to a hospital if immediate medical attention is required.

C. In all investigations of Child Abuse, the officer will notify their sergeant. The sergeant will screen the incident and notify the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit. The Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit will determine if they will respond to the location and may advise the sergeant on how to investigate the incident if they do not respond.

D. Document all incidents of Child Abuse on a General Offense Report.

V. Protective Custody of Abused or Neglected Children

A. RCW 26.44.050 states that a law enforcement officer may take a child into custody without a court order if there is probable cause to believe that the child is abused or neglected. The law enforcement officer is authorized to photograph the child for providing documentary evidence of the physical condition of the child.

B. When an officer takes a child into protective custody, they will screen the incident with their sergeant.

C. DSHS/Child Protective Services has no statutory authority to retain, return, shelter, or otherwise act on behalf of a child who has not been placed into CPS custody. CPS may ask law enforcement to take a child into custody without a court order if they believe that a child is at risk for further abuse or that the child’s caretaker may hide or flee with the child to avoid investigation of Child Abuse.

D. RCW 26.44.110 requires that officers taking children into custody without a court order must leave a written statement with the caretaker or in the residence from which the child was taken into custody if no caretaker is available. Officers will complete a Custody Without Court Order (form 9.45) and leave it at the residence or with the caretaker.

E. If the child is not admitted into the hospital, the police officer will arrange placement of the child with CPS. Child Protective Services must approve all field placements of children taken into protective custody for abuse or neglect.

F. Officers must adhere to the following procedures when taking a child into protective custody:

1. Determine if there is a person capable and willing to take care of the child. This person could be a friend or a relative of the child.

2. Call the CPS centralized intake office at 1-800-609-8764 and then press ‘9’ for day time intake and 1-800-562-5624 and press ‘9’ for after hours intake. This will alert the Central Intake social workers that law enforcement is waiting on the telephone line. Explain the circumstances to the Central Intake social worker and provide the following information.

a. If a person is available to care for the child, CPS will need all of this person’s information. CPS will complete a records check and determine if the child can be placed with the person. Document all contact with CPS in the General Offense Report including the name of the person who received the intake information.

b. If there is no one to place the child with, the Central Intake social worker will research available placement. If CPS is unable to place the child within 30 minutes, a CPS Field Response worker will respond to the officer’s location to assume custody of the child. Document this information in the General Offense Report, including the name of the person who responds to take custody of the child.

c. If it is immediately apparent that the police cannot adequately care for the child, or equipment is unavailable to safely transport the child, inform the Central Intake worker and a Field Response worker will respond to the location.

VI. Runaway Children and Children in Dangerous Circumstances

A. RCW 13.32A.050 and RCW 13.32A.060 covers law enforcement’s authority and the procedures for taking Runaway and Children in Dangerous Circumstances into custody. You must take children into custody under the following four circumstances:

1. Runaways from home. The child is a reported runaway or a law enforcement agency has been notified by the parent of the child that the child is absent from parental custody without consent.

2. Children in dangerous circumstances. You reasonably believe that a child is in circumstances which constitute a danger to the child’s safety.

3. Runaways from a supervising agency. An agency legally charged with the supervision of a child has notified a law enforcement agency that the child has run away from placement.

4. A law enforcement agency has been notified by a juvenile court that probable cause exists to believe that the child has violated a court placement order or a court order has been issued that directs the police to take the child into custody. If you take custody of a child based on probable cause that the child has violated a court placement or based on a court order to take the child into custody, take the child to the King County Youth Services Center (YSC).

B. Tell the child why you are taking them into custody.

C. Screen the incident with a sergeant.

D. Only the minimum amount of force necessary to ensure the care and control of the child shall be used. Arbitrary use of handcuffs or other physical restraints is not permitted.

E. In the case of Runaways and Children in Dangerous Circumstances, an officer is immune from liability if, acting in good faith, they:

1. Fail to take a child into custody.

2. Take a child into custody.

3. Take a child to DSHS, CRC, or a location approved by DSHS.

4. Release a child to a person at the request of a parent.

VII. Custody Disposition of a Runaway Child or a Child in a Dangerous Circumstance.

A. When an officer takes a Runaway or a Child in a Dangerous Circumstance into custody they will attempt to contact the child’s parent. If the parent wishes to take custody of the child, transport the child to the parent. The parent may also choose to have you take the child to an adult extended family member, responsible adult, or a licensed youth shelter. If you release the child to a parent or other acceptable person, give the child and the person taking custody of the child a Runaway Brochure, (available at each precinct).

B. An officer can take a Runaway or Child in a Dangerous Circumstance to a Crisis Residential Center or to DSHS if the child does not meet the CRC criteria, in the following circumstances:

1. The parent of the child cannot be contacted.

2. The parent of the child has been contacted but declines to take custody of the child and declines to direct you to an acceptable person or youth shelter. In this situation, complete a General Offense Report with “Child-Abandon” listed in the Offenses block. Link the General Offense Report to previous runaway reports and list the General Offense Numbers in the narrative.

3. The parents have been contacted but it is not practical to transport the child to their location and there is no other acceptable person or youth shelter.

4. If the child expresses fear or distress at the prospect of being returned to their home or the officer believes that that child will be endangered by being returned home. If the officer suspects or the child reports either child abuse or neglect, follow the procedures for investigating Child Abuse.

C. Harboring a Minor

1. If you have a reasonable suspicion a child is being harbored, remove the child from the custody of the person harboring the child and take appropriate enforcement action (RCW 13.32A.080 Unlawful Harboring a Minor is a gross misdemeanor).

D. If a child is a reported runaway from a Supervising Agency, take the child into custody, contact the parents and return the child to a CRC or to DSHS.

E. Do not keep a child in custody beyond the amount of time reasonably necessary to investigate the incident, transport the child to a destination authorized by law, and place the child at that destination.

F. If you take a Runaway or child in a dangerous circumstance into custody, complete a General Offense Report. At CRC/DSHS you will fill out a transfer of custody form. Get a copy of this form from the agency and forward it to Data Center.

1. A Supplemental Report may be used if there is already a General Offense Report on file.

2. See subsection IX of this manual section for offenses and MIRs.

VIII. Transporting Children

A. Children should be transported in the appropriate restraint device depending on their age and weight as described in SMC 11.58.195. If an officer does not have access to the proper child safety restraint, they should call CPS for assistance.

IX. Offenses and MIRs

Type of Incident Offense MIR

Child Abuse/Child Neglect “Child-Abused” 150

Runaway From Home or a Supervising Agency “Runaway” 364

Children in Dangerous Circumstances “Child-Endangerment” 151

Probable Cause “Runaway” 364

Court Order or Warrant “Warrarr” 192

Harboring a Minor “Child-Harbor Minor” 152

Parent Refusing to Take Custody “Child-Abandon” 150