Child Abuse Interviewer

Child abuse interviewers are trained to conduct forensic evaluations at Child Abuse Assessment Centers. Children are referred to these centers by law enforcement, social services, and medical providers when abuse (e.g., physical abuse, sexual abuse, severe neglect, observation of domestic violence) is suspected. 

The team approach to child abuse investigations appears to result in:

  • More effective decision-making by collaborative team members.
  • Higher conviction rates.
  • Fewer problems with parental cooperation.
  • More highly skilled interviewers.
  • Higher numbers of perpetrator confessions.
  • Higher conviction rates.   

An interview by one trained professional, rather than multiple, separate interviews, minimizes the trauma associated with the abuse disclosure and investigation. Research  (Jones, Cross, Walsh, & Simone, 2005) shows that fewer interviews results in:

  • The child victim's perception of the investigation as less harmful.
  • The child having a decreased number of  posttrauma symptoms.
  • Increased quality of child's trial testimony.
  • Decreased likelihood of inaccurate or false details.

Skilled child abuse interviewers are sensitive to the child's development stage, language capabilities, and level of distress. They are aware of common interviewing mistakes that affect the child's ability to be open and accurate in detail. These mistakes include:

  • Suggestive interviewing
  • Reinforcing answers
  • Telling children what others believe about the allegations.
  • Poor interview questions, resulting in too little information gathered

Instead, a skilled interviewer will be:

  • Warm and emotionally supportive, building rapport with the child
  • Use age-appropriate language
  • Ask open-ended questions

The interviewer must first spend time getting to know the child before initiating the interview process. The interviewer observes the child's emotional state, developmental stage, and function/competence during the early part of the interview. If the interview is being taped, there are others (law enforcement, DHS, physician) observing the interview from another room. The child must be informed that others see and/or hear what she is saying. As many open-ended questions as possible should be used during the child interview. In ranked-order, the continuum of questions asked by the interviewer includes: 

  1. General allow the child to give an account in his or her own words.
  2. Focused elicit relevant information, focusing on people, circumstances of the abuse, and involved body parts.
  3. Multiple-choice are used when focused questions do not result in relevant information. Younger children have more difficulty with multiple-choice questions. This type of question should be limited to the circumstances of the abuse.  
  4. Yes-no questions can elicit accurate information when more open-ended questions are not effective. These questions should be limited to the identity of the perpetrator and sexual behaviors. 
  5. Leading questions are not appropriate when interviewing children and are usually perceived as coercive and influence the child's interpretation of events.

Other techniques used in the child interview include: anatomical drawings, anatomical dolls, picturing drawing, story telling and doll house.

  • Anatomical drawings are pictures of adults and children, male and female, at different development stages, without clothing and showing sex characteristics. These are particularly useful with young children. Appropriate pictures are chosen by either child or interviewer. An advantage of pictures is that they are a permanent record of the child's interview and admissible in court. Comments are written by child, and if unable, by the interviewer, with the child's specific response to questions about the drawing.
  • Anatomical dolls are anatomically correct regarding sex characteristics. Advantages of these dolls includes the 1) familiarity that younger children have with dolls, 2) offering a stimulus-reminder of the sexual abuse, 3) allowing for more precise communication than speech, and 4) allow the child to actually show what happened to them, with more precision than verbal communication;
  • Picture drawing is useful in gathering information directly and indirectly about the sexual abuse. When asked to "draw anything," "picture of myself," "a person," "your family," "or the perpetrator, children sometimes include sexual contact in the pictures. Asking questions about the picture elicits more information.
  • Anatomical dolls. Advantages in using anatomically correct dolls include the familiarity that younger children have with dolls, offering a stimulus-reminder of the sexual abuse, allow for more precise communication than speech, and allow the child to actually show what happened to them, an easier communication method than talking. 
  • Doll house with furniture and people are useful with younger children and can be used to gather information about the sexual abuse, observe the child's play, and ask questions about the child's play activity, often eliciting details of sexual abuse.

The interviewer assesses the child's statements and behaviors to determine the child's description of the sexual abuse, the context of the sexual abuse, and the child's emotional response to the sexual abuse, and includes in the evaluative process clinical findings and evidence from other sources. Findings usually fall on a continuum from very likely to very unlikely. Results of the interview are made available to law enforcement, social services, and the prosecutor. 



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