Who Evaluates Child Interviews and Interviewers?
Lawrence W. Daly*
ABSTRACT: Approaches used by professionals who are responsible for
interviewing alleged child victims of abuse are haphazard at best.
This is exacerbated by the absence of protocols for public and private
agencies. The lack of standardized protocols for child interviews,
along with the absence of accountability for interviewers, results in
frequent contamination of child witnesses. If such a protocol were
in place, there would likely be a drastic reduction in the number of
cases dismissed and verdicts overturned because of contamination.
Adopting a nationally accepted standard for interviewing children would
restore credibility to child interviewers and validate a system where
ethical questions about interview practices and coaching have become
Post-event contamination occurs during interviews with children about
alleged abuse. Unfortunately, most research has not addressed this
issue, but rather has explored the issues surrounding a child's ability
to store and retrieve memories, or the child interviewer's suggestive
and leading interview techniques. Although research might analyze
the environmental influences that affect a child's testimony, there is a
woefully slim body of research into how the lack of standardization of
protocols, guidelines, policies, and procedures has contributed to
post-event contamination of a child's testimony.
Since the beginning of the "child advocate movement, much
emphasis has been placed on the need to believe children who allege that
they have been abused. The majority of studies and seminars given
during the past two decades have dealt with recognizing abuse and
"how to do" the right thing for the child when child abuse is
alleged. The missing ingredient in this fast-moving field is the
lack of evaluative procedures for individuals who are conducting child
abuse interviews and investigations.
So, who evaluates the interviewer? Are standards, protocols,
procedures and guidelines created for child abuse interviewers, but
never followed by the organizations and individuals who created
them? Are child interviewers the major cause of false allegations
and the reason many allegations are questioned? Why isn't there a
nationally accepted standard, protocol, procedure and/or guideline for
conducting interviews? Why aren't there procedures for evaluating
child interviewers? Does the lack of nationally accepted
standards, protocols, procedures and/or guidelines for conducting
interviews contribute to post-event contamination?
Protocols and Procedures
During the past two years we have been conducting interviews of
police officers, mental health professionals and child interview
specialists. Generally, the common traits, details and facts that
emerge during interviews with these professionals are:
||There are generally no policies, protocols or guidelines
established by most police departments, mental health
professionals, child protective service agencies and/or
prosecutor's offices on how to interview children and/or
investigate child abuse allegations.
||The interview method and techniques used by the child
interviewers vary from one police officer, police agency,
caseworker, child protective agency and mental health professional
||Child interviewers rely heavily on one-day to one-week seminars
that allegedly stress child interviewing and investigative
||The rooms that the child interviews are conducted in are
generally put together by the child interviewer. There is no
rhyme nor reason to what and why things are put into the room.
||The child interviewers state that they do not video- or
audiotape records because it is not policy and they believe it
violates children's rights. This policy generally exists
verbally. Written policy and procedures for child
interviewing video- and audiotaping are usually nonexistent.
||Interview props, such as anatomical dolls, toy houses, stuffed
animals, and anatomical drawings, are generally introduced prior
to conducting a free narrative and/or open questioning type
interviews. The interviewer fails to establish a proper
rapport and free narrative environment, and relies heavily on the
interview prop as a substitution for effective child interview
techniques and methods.
||The child interviewers generally summarize the content of the
child interviews of the alleged child victim. When asked
about their note-taking methods, techniques, accuracy, and the
manner the questions were asked of the alleged child victim, child
interviewers are incapable of providing accurate and detailed
information about what was actually said by the child or the
||The child interviewers often do not conduct the interview with
the child alone. A social worker and policeman are common
and frequently there will be another social worker or therapist
plus a parent not only in the room but participating in the
interview. However, the defense attorney or defense expert
will not be allowed to be present in this interview. When
asked about the rationale for these procedures, the usual answer
is that this was for the protection of the child.
||The child interviewers maintain that, despite how many times
they may interview the child, it will be traumatic for that child
to be interviewed by the defense expert. They, along with the
prosecutor, do everything they can to convince the court not to
order an interview by the defense expert. If the defense
expert is allowed to interview the child, it may be required that
others, such as the attorney or child interviewer, are present in
the room during the interview. This makes it difficult to
conduct an appropriate or effective interview. Also, the
defense expert is unlikely to be permitted to interview the child
more than once. The child interviewers support this stance
by maintaining it is for the protection and welfare of the
child. However, they seldom can justify this belief.
It appears to be only that the defense child interviewer is on the
other side. When asked why there are different standards for
the individual child interviewers, the child interviewer has great
difficulty in providing appropriate and reasonable responses.
||The child interviewers seldom prepare prior to the interview
with the child. The information received about the alleged
abuse most often comes from an advocate for the child. The
child interviewer assumes that this information is accurate.
When asked about the validity and accuracy of this history, the
child interviewer responds, "It is not my job to question the
history!" This attitude creates an expectation that the
alleged child victim will disclose the area allegedly touched, the
name of the alleged perpetrator and provide a reliable and valid
disclosure of the allegations.
||The child may be interviewed many times by many child
interviewers. Generally each child interviewer interviews
the child once and then makes a decision about the child's
credibility. The child interviewer substantiates the alleged
abuse from the history given by the adult accompanying the child
along with the child's statement.
||If the child is interviewed more than once, it is viewed by most
professionals retained by the state as exploring, resolving
specific and general issues, and determining if the alleged child
victim was abused. But if defense child interviewers request
more than one interview or conduct multiple interviews of the
child, they are seen as "traumatizing" the child.
||The child interviewers generally get basic interviewing skills
from books, lectures, exposure to observing child interviews, and
other resources. The child interviewers, once they begin
interviewing children, are seldom evaluated. Occasionally,
the interview methodology of the child interviewer is questioned
by an investigator or attorney, but nothing happens to stop child
interviewers from continuing to use ineffective and contaminating
||There are no local, state or national child interview
certification processes and/or evaluation processes.
||History questions about the alleged abuse are not properly
prepared by the child interviewer.
||Prosecutors routinely make filing/charging decisions based on
child interviews that may last only 10 to 15 minutes. These
interviews generally are lacking in content and context about the
||Child interviewers are not held accountable for their interview
methods and techniques. There are no local, state or
national enforcement agencies which keep them in line.
||The majority of child interviewers are impatient with the child
during the interviewing process. They appear to be
attempting to confirm their beliefs about the alleged abuse rather
than getting information about what, if anything, actually
happened. This creates an interview process whereby the
child is not allowed to provide a response to the question and/or
is unable to provide a free narrative response. This makes
the veracity of the allegations extremely difficult to assess.
Initial Approaches to the Allegation
The child interviewers have been practicing medicine without a
license. The current evaluation system, if in place, assumes that the
procedures the child interviewers use are correct. When asked who
created the system they are currently using, their usual response is,
"I don't know!" When asked who evaluates them, they generally
respond, "a supervisor!" This supervisor tends to be someone
who was hired by the agency to do the child interviews, received the
same basic subjective training, and followed procedures that were never
The interviewing protocols do vary from city to city and state to
state. Let us look at two systems we work with on a daily basis:
In Snohomish County, the police agencies use child interview
specialists to interview children. The child is generally brought to the
interview room by the adult to whom the first alleged disclosure of the
abuse was made. This person is usually the child's mother. The child
interview specialists may be given the subjective, unsupported history
about the abuse by this adult. Then the child is interviewed.
interview takes anywhere from 10 minutes to one hour, depending upon the
age of the child and the child's attention span. The police generally
conduct no or minimal collateral interviews. In fact, their procedure
allows them to hand out statements to be filled out and completed by the
witnesses. This method is very antiquated. The prosecutors generally
make their filing/charging decisions from the one child interview and minimal
facts obtained by a "surface" investigation.
Often, when a thorough investigation is conducted by a third party,
or the child is properly interviewed, the case is not charged, is
dismissed, the judge rules no abuse or not guilty, or the jury acquits
the defendant. In the past two years I have seen at least two dozen
cases that fit this profile. Still, even though their antiquated
approach and procedure(s) has been proven to be futile, nothing changes.
The poor quality of child and collateral interviews and inadequate
In King County, prosecutors and the police agencies conduct
interviews of children on a daily basis. Generally their training is
received from on the job experience and state-oriented programs slanted
and directed towards subjectiveness and the belief that children do not
make up child abuse allegations.
The police agencies and prosecutor offices in these two counties suffer from continual rotation of an inexperienced staff and an
antiquated approach to allegations of child abuse. Due to these
substandard techniques and high turnover, the poor child interviews and
inadequate investigations result in false allegations. This is supported
by the numerous dismissals, acquittals and not guilty verdicts that we
have assisted in achieving in the majority of the cases we have been
involved in, specifically in these two counties.
The lack of adequate methods and techniques, evaluation procedures,
and protocols in child interviewing should not be specifically focused
on the Snohomish and/or King County police agencies and the prosecutors'
offices, but on the national child abuse criminal justice system level.
These two counties have given the impression to other agencies across
the United States that they are the leaders in this area. If the
ineptitude of the Snohomish and King County criminal justice system is
an example of what is transpiring across the United States, then the
number of false allegations are likely to be greater than we aware of.
Research in this area is essential.
The Defense Interview
Many times as I have walked through the doors of the prosecutor's
office, I have been subjected to what I call the "Tribarricade."
This means that besides the child, I have the prosecutor, advocate and
often a parent in the interview room. The child is physically positioned
in such a manner that I immediately get the feeling that the child has
been told that I am a "Swamp Monster" and that I am there to harm him or her.
The mood of the
interview is set. The first 15 minutes of the interview, when child
interviewers should be establishing rapport with the child, they often
have to spend this time taking down the "Tribarricade" one
wall at a time. This rapport-building phase is the most crucial of the
interview phases. It is imperative that the child and the interviewer
establish a foundation to begin the questioning phases.
The one-on-one communication that should occur in an interview rarely
occurs. The advocate, the prosecutor, and the child's counselor have
direct access to the alleged victim from the time the allegation is
disclosed until trial. The one interview that the accused is allowed can
only be categorized as a farce. A child's attention span is generally 5
to 20 minutes. The interview the defense is allowed to conduct, in
essence, is substandard due to the environment that is orchestrated by
the state, all in the name of protecting the child.
In interviewing the alleged child victim, the general standard set up
by the state is that the defense is generally given one try at
interviewing the child. If the interview is unproductive, the prosecutor
is unlikely to grant a second interview. Therefore the defense, if they
want a second interview, must move for a court order. Although judges
often grant these motions, there are many reasons why the second
interview will be denied. The state will argue that the first interview
was traumatic to the child and the second interview will be as well.
prosecutors seem to forget that they or one of their agents conducted
one to seven interviews of the child prior to the defense request to
conduct the interview.
The "traumatic" argument by the state has little merit.
child is often sent to counseling immediately after the allegations are
disclosed. For the next six to twelve months the therapist and/or
counselor spend the majority of their time talking about the alleged
abuse with the child. This argument about multiple child interviews may
appear to equate an interview with therapy and counseling sessions.
are similar in that the alleged abuse is talked about in therapy. However, numerous interviews can be traumatic to the child, which is one
reason why audio- or videotapes should be used in child interviews.
Preserving all child interviews would reduce the number of times the
child would have to be interviewed. It would also reduce the amount of
post-event contamination that can occur during repeated interviews.
So who evaluates the defense and the state child interviewers? Perhaps the interviewer conducts a
self-evaluation. This self-evaluation
may occur if an opposing attorney is present in the interview and objects to the form
of the question or if the interview is later criticized by the opposing
attorney or expert. Still, many child interviewers commit errors with
leading and suggestive techniques. Child interviews in 36 cases were
analyzed by Underwager and Wakefield and the proportion of the total
adult behaviors that were potentially error-inducing ranged from half to
four-fifths with an average of two-thirds (Underwager & Wakefield,
1990). There is no one individual and/or organization which dictates,
manages, enforces, inquires or requires that a child interview be
conducted by a proper protocol.
When the prosecution and police conduct the child interview, there is
no one from the other side in the interview room with the child and the
child interviewer to object to the form of the question or the question
itself. The reasons for these error-inducing methods and techniques
during child interviews are that the attorney, investigator, and/or
psychologist have received limited training and education in the field
of interviewing children and there is no one who evaluates their methods
and techniques. According to research studies done by Kendall, Tackett
and Watson (1991):
The interviewers own expectations and bias often influence their
perceptions of symptoms of abuse. The results of these studies show that
the interviewer's gender, profession and expectations can influence
their perceptions of behavioral indicators of sexual abuse.
Do The Indigent Suffer?
Since child interviews are conducted by the state and by the defense
only when the defense attorney succeeds getting an order for an
interview by their expert, the indigent are likely to be at a
disadvantage. Most of the attorneys are on a limited budget wise as to
whom they can hire to conduct the child interviews. The indigent clients
are at the mercy of a court system that does not allow for experts to
participate in child interviews unless the attorney argues to the court
that the case is complex and expertise is necessary.
If an expert is hired or appointed by the State, the prosecutor will
argue that the defense is attempting to conduct a psychological
examination of the alleged child victim. Maybe this is the intent of the
attorney or maybe the issue is that attorneys understand their
limitations in interviewing children. Whatever the reasons, little has
been done to establish training for professionals who interview children
and/or provide for proper method and techniques of evaluating their
interviews. The objection by the state to have the child evaluated by an expert is a very interesting argument since the truth
is what the prosecutor should be seeking.
In the past two years, we have been involved in several cases where
we were hired by an individual who had put his faith in the public
defender program or a private attorney who lacked the understanding of
child abuse issues or would not pay to hire the proper experts when it
was desperately needed. It was the clients' opinion that if we had not
become involved, he or she would have been forced to plea bargain.
innocent person could have gone to jail.
Since most individuals charged with a child abuse allegation cannot
afford a private attorney or legal investigator to handle their case,
they are left to be represented by public defense counsel. Legal
representation is not always inadequate at this level. However, the
experience of the attorney along with the time public defense counsel
can put into a case is extremely limited. Therefore, the questioning of
the child interviewers and the process a child abuse investigation has
been routed through is seldom questioned by defense counsel and
investigators. Many individuals may be in prison because a well meaning
prosecutor and defense attorney failed to recognize the inadequacies of
the current state(s) system approach to child interviewers and child
Interview Protocols in Professional Organizations
Many organizations have created very broad and general child
interview guidelines on how to approach a child abuse allegation and how
to conduct an interview of a child. Still these organizations have no
authority to discipline or monitor what their members are doing in a
child interview and investigation setting. Let us look at some of these
organizations that have interview protocols for child interviewers:
The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
The standards recommend that the child should be seen individually
except when the child refuses to separate from the care giver. Discussion of possible abuse in the presence of the care giver during
the initial interview should be avoided. General principles of the
interview itself include:
The interviewer should create an atmosphere that allows the child
to talk freely, including providing physical surroundings and a climate that facilitates comfort.
Language and approach should be developmentally appropriate.
The interviewer should take the time necessary to perform a
complete evaluation and avoid a coercive quality in the interview.
Initial questioning should be as nondirective as possible to
elicit spontaneous responses. If open-ended questions are not
productive, more directive questioning should follow.
Highly specific questioning should only be used when other methods
have failed, when previous information warrants substantial concern, or
when the child's developmental level precludes more nondirective
approaches. (However, responses to these questions should be carefully
evaluated and weighed accordingly.)
Nonverbal tools should be available to assist in communication.
Anatomically detailed dolls should be used with care and discretion.
These dolls should not generally be considered conclusive of a history
of sexual abuse.
The evaluator should approach the interview with an open mind to
all possible responses from the child.
Evaluations should routinely involve reviewing all pertinent
materials, conducting collateral interviews when necessary, establishing
rapport, assessing the child's general functioning and development, and
thoroughly evaluating the possibility of abuse.
According to The American Professional Society On the Abuse of
Children these are guidelines for mental health professionals but are
intended as a standard of practice to which practitioners are expected
to adhere in all cases. They is currently no system to evaluate
"It is desirable for those conducting the interview to use
nonleading questions; avoid demonstrations of shock, disbelief, or other
emotions; and maintain a 'tell me more' or 'and then what happened'
approach. If possible, the child should be interviewed alone."
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Persons doing evaluations must be professionals with special
skills and experience in child sexual abuse, and evaluations should be
performed under direction of an experienced child psychiatrist or
The child should be seen for the minimum number of times necessary
by as few people as possible.
The interview should take place in a relaxed environment. The
child should be allowed privacy.
Gathering a history on the child from parents or care givers is an important part of the evaluation.
It is essential to obtain a history
from the perspective of each parent.
The possibility of false allegations needs to be considered,
particularly if allegations are coming from the parent rather than the
child, if parents are engaged in a dispute over custody, or if the child
is a preschooler. The interviewer should spend the time to establish
trust and build rapport.
The interviewer must maintain emotional neutrality, approach the
case with an open mind, adapt a nonjudgmental stance, and seek out the
unique particulars of each case. The child must be allowed to tell his
story in his own words and great care must be taken to avoid leading
The child's credibility must be assessed. Factors enhancing
credibility include detailed descriptions in the child's own language,
spontaneity, an appropriate degree of anxiety, consistency of
allegations over time, and behavioral changes consistent with the abuse.
It is not necessary to use anatomically correct dolls. If used,
care should be taken not to use these dolls in a way to instruct, coach
or lead the child.
Children's drawings are helpful in assessing child sexual abuse.
These include spontaneous drawings, or asking the child to draw a male
and female, kinetic family drawings, what happened and where, and even a
picture of the alleged offender.
Videotaping should be used when possible. The child should be
informed as to the purpose of the videotape and the child's assent should be obtained prior to
These guidelines have been developed to assist clinicians performing
interviews and are recommended but there is currently no way to enforce
American Medical Association
The American Medical Association adopted guidelines from the
proceedings of the AMA House of Delegates, December 2-5, 1984. These
guidelines provide a substantial amount of research about the history of
abuse and address other child abuse issues. Unfortunately, there are
approximately two pages of general guidelines for interviewing children.
There are no guidelines for the child interviewer to be evaluated and/or
to enforce the suggested guidelines.
National Federation of Societies for Clinical Social Work
We called this organization and asked them to send us their protocol
on interviewing children. They told us that they did not have a specific
protocol but that it was in their "Code of Ethics" manual.
asked them to send this manual. When we received the manual and reviewed
it, we discovered that there is no protocol on interviewing children,
nor is there an evaluation and/or training for their members. This
manual is basic, broad and general about their guidelines for their
National Association of Social Workers
This organization does not have a protocol and/or specific guidelines
for child interviewing and evaluating child interviews. They do however
have "Standards for Social Work Practice in Child Protection."
This standard does not address guidelines for interviewing children or
an evaluation system for the child interviewer.
Services - State of Washington
Child protective services in the state of Washington have developed
specific and enforceable standards for investigation of children in high
and low risk situations involving alleged sexual abuse. (Child
protective services, Chapter 26.21, 01/89). However, there are currently no guidelines in place for the actual conducting of
interviews with children, and/or no system is in place for evaluating
the child interviewer. There is a section under child protective services
26.32, Section 8, that discusses what training a caseworker should
receive. One of the training suggestions in Section 8(f) recommends a
five-day school on the use of anatomical dolls. We find this interesting
since the use of these dolls is highly controversial because of their
suggestibility and should not even be used in an interview except as a
King County Working Agreement
The King County's Division of Children and Family
Enforcement within King County, and the King County Prosecutor's
have a working agreement between the agencies. There are investigative
and child interview guidelines that are recommended by each agency and
their personnel, but there is no training and/or an evaluation protocol
suggested for child interviewers. It has been our experience with these
agencies in King County that the agreement operates haphazardly. No one
enforces the working agreement. It is an assumption by "all"
that the agreement will be followed. It has been our experience that
these agencies work within the guidelines of the agreement only when it
Setting up a National Protocol and Evaluation System: A Suggested
We have developed a child interview evaluation program for child
interviewers who are employed by Daly Consulting and Investigations.
This protocol has been a step in reducing post-event contamination by
our child interviewers. The following guidelines have been established
for child interviewers to follow:
Some of the critics in this profession may argue that there is
insufficient research or information on how to conduct a proper child
interview and/or to create specific standards, protocols or procedures on
evaluating child interviewers. However, we believe that there is
sufficient published research in this area and that it should be
implemented. For example, there is a protocol developed in conjunction
with the use of Statement Validity Analysis (Raskin & Esplin, 1991;
Raskin & Yuille, 1989).
Understanding the Five Phases of an Interview (Yuille, Hunter, Joffe,
& Zaparniuk, in press)
1. RAPPORT BUILDING
Meet the child and accompanying adult in the waiting area. Address the child first, then the adult.
should be paid especially to the child. Say something positive about the
child, such as, "What a nice looking dress." Be enthusiastic
and friendly. During first few minutes of interview, ask questions
involving historical memory, specific events (such as birthdays), and
other events that will spark conversation and begin to build the
2. INTRODUCING THE PURPOSE OF THE INTERVIEW
Ask questions about why the child has come to the interview once
rapport is established to flush out obvious signs of coaching. Stress
the importance of telling the truth. Use other general questions
developed prior to the interview to assist the child in providing a
spontaneous disclosure about the alleged abuse
Use words and concepts within the child's frame of reference (Raskin
& Yuille, 1989; Walsh, 1987). Be alert to developmental differences
in language and cognition (Cole & Loftus, 1987; Raskin & Yuille,
1989; Walsh, 1987) and never assume that a child knows what he or she
means by the use of a particular word. If there is any question in your
mind, be sure to ask if the child knows what a word means.
3. FREE NARRATIVE PHASE
This is the core of the interview. You must discover from the child
the name(s) that he or she gives to body parts and private areas. Never
identify for the child the body parts allegedly touched by the suspect;
let the child name them without suggestion from you (Daly, 1988). Do
not interrupt the child during the free narrative. Do not correct,
interrupt or challenge the child during the narrative phase.
4. THE OPEN QUESTIONING PHASE
The purpose of this phase is to allow the child to elaborate about
details described during the free narrative. An open question is one
that cannot be answered with a simple "Yes" or "No."
Open questions should encourage the child to provide information.
5. SPECIFIC QUESTION PHASE
The purpose of this phase is to provide an opportunity to clarify and
extend previous answers (Raskin & Yuille, 1989).
Understanding the Four Walls of Anxiety
Understanding the proper steps of how to conduct a child interview
may determine eventual success or failure. In addition it is necessary
that the child interviewer understand the Four Walls of Anxiety (Daly,
||When the child and interviewer first meet for the interview;
||When the interviewer requests information from the child about the
child's body parts (specifically the names of private areas);
||When the interviewer requests information from the child about the
alleged incident of abuse;
||When the child does not provide any details of the alleged abuse
but makes statements that he or she has been molested and/or the
interviewer discovers that the child is providing false information.
Every interview will begin and end differently. It will have its
individual characteristics. Sometimes a child will resist the child
interviewer's questions and/or provide what appears to be an obvious
false disclosure. The child interviewer must understand how to deal
with a difficult situation and child (Daly, 1991a):
Understanding How to Deal with a Difficult Situation and Child (Daly,
When the child professes to have been molested but provides no details
of the alleged abuse, the interviewer must insure that the child provide
the 6W's (who, what, where, when, why and how). Ask specific questions
which are refocused, rephrased, or restated in some way. Often a short
break can help the child relax before continuing the questions.
If the child's story is inconsistent, confront gently, as a
confrontation may cause anxiety, suspicion or anger. Manage this with
tact, emphasizing that you missed what the child said.
The child who is being untruthful can be dealt with in a variety of
ways. After the child has provided a free narrative of what allegedly
occurred, ask specific questions to try and obtain detailed information
about the alleged incident. After this avenue has been explored,
rephrase, in an overview style, restating what the child allegedly said,
but adding details that the child did not provide which you know to be
untrue. If the child is agreeable to what is added, the inconsistencies
of the two stories should be discussed with the child. This may provide an
avenue for the child to save face with reference as to why he or she is
providing untruths or embellishments.
You always run the risk of destroying rapport if you are forced to
confront false statements by the child. Confronting the child should
therefore be a last resort. But confrontation may be your only option when all
the inconsistencies have been pointed out and the child falls to take
advantage of the "avenues for saving face" provided.
As a rule, the child should be held accountable for all statements made to
you. Using proper interview steps, understanding the four walls of
anxiety, and understanding how to deal with a difficult interview are
essential in conducting a successful interview.
Understanding Why All Child Interviews Should be Audio- or Videotaped
Properly conducted video- and/or audiotaped interviews reduce the
number of times a child will have to be interviewed.
The tape preserves the integrity of the interview and provides an
accurate record (Yuille, et al., in press).
The tape provides a true replication of the interviewer's demeanor
toward the child, and limits the suggestibility that often occurs in the
The tape provides a record of the interview that captures the
environment and statements where the interviewer receives child hearsay.
When the child hearsay exception is exercised in court, the taped record
of the interview may be examined.
The tape is an important form of ongoing training for the interviewer
and provides professional protection.
The accuracy of the interview cannot be validated without the use
of a tape. A professional cannot focus on conducting an interview and
take verbatim notes at the same time. Even a second professional in the
interview room is not capable of taking completely accurate notes.
The tape may be used to compare the statements of parents and
professionals when there are inconsistencies with the statements of child
The goal of conducting any interview is to minimize the trauma to the
child and to maximize the recall of the child. Taping accomplishes this goal.
The tape may expose techniques that employ leading or suggestive
The audio- or videotape encourages guilty pleas by accused
confronted by the tape. The police have reported (to Dr. Yuille) that a
videotape of the interview of a child is an effective aid in obtaining a
confession by the perpetrator (Yuille, et al., in press).
The tape may be used as a therapeutic tool.
The tape may be used to allay a child's fears of disbelief by
parental figures, or to confront disbelief or denial when it actually
exists (McFarlane & Krebs, 1986).
Taping the interviews may deter initial retractions (McFarlane
& Krebs, 1986).
The tape can assist the child in preparing for his or her court
appearance (Yuille, et al., in press).
The tape may be used to support the prosecution of criminal cases
of child sexual assault in juvenile court actions to protect dependent
children (Bulkley & Davidson, 1980).
Testimony from a child under 10 years of age is generally
admissible through the child hearsay exception. The interviewer may be
allowed to testify to what and how the child responded verbally and
emotionally (affect). The tape of the interview could be used in court,
as opposed to allowing the interviewer to testify as to his or her
As State v. Sheppard (1984) documented with some children,
videotaping may increase the accuracy of testimony. (Perry &
Becoming an Effective Interviewer
Some professionals believe that since they have a title in front of
their name they are more capable of conducting child interviews, than,
say, a police officer. This is something we have found to be untrue, but
research in this area is needed. In the meantime, a move should be made
to educate courts that the evaluation and certification process needs to
Experience for the Interviewer ... Learning to Evaluate
At Daly Consulting and Investigations, child interviewers have to
observe, to evaluate themselves, and learn to evaluate and learn from
the child interviewer trainer for approximately six months to a year.
created and use the following form for evaluating the child interviewers
who are employed by us as well as for observing other child
Evaluation procedures, methods, techniques and research is the future
in child interviewing. Research on this type of evaluation system must
be conducted to determine the specific positive and negative results.
Ego: The Child Interviewer's Downfall
Everyone who deals with children in an interview setting wants to
believe that they are doing the right thing for the alleged child victim
and the accused. Unfortunately, this belief is generally a false
perception. Child interviewers must learn to evaluate themselves on an
individual child interview basis. I know instantly in a child interview
when I have erred and I understand that it will happen again. Recognizing that this does happen is the first step in becoming a good
child interviewer. Hopefully, as education is obtained and experience is
developed, the mistakes are minimized. Still, evaluation of each child
interview is imperative. It should not matter how much experience and
education an interviewer has. Evaluation is the key to improving the
methods and techniques. These standards will bring integrity to the
Resources for the Interviewer
The child interviewer can learn proper child interview methods and
techniques through several resources:
The numerous city, county, law and university libraries are great
resource centers. At these libraries, the child interviewer can
review the majority of articles and books that have been written on
Seminars, lectures, workshops, and professional conferences that
discuss effective interviews of children can be attended.
Child interviewers can gain experience through observing other child interviews.
The interviewer's taped interviews can be critically self-evaluated in
terms of the above. The interviewer could ask a knowledgeable colleague
to watch the tape and make suggestions.
These resources should be explored, examined, evaluated and used.
more information child interviewers have about interviewing children,
the more aware they become that their approach to, and attitude, methods
and techniques during a child interview can cause inaccurate and
unreliable disclosure. Effective, noncontaminating interviews enhance
the reliability and credibility of the disclosures.
Doing it Right The First Time
The past decade has taught law enforcement a lot about investigations
and how important the initial investigation of a crime scene by the
responding officer can be. The recent case in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, of
the mass murderer, Jeff Dahmer, is a very good example of what occurs
when investigations are not conducted properly the first time. Police
should look at the Dahmer case as a warning of things to come. Attitudes about how abuse cases are handled need changing and education
is more important now then ever. If the police don't do the
investigation right the first time, when are they going to have time to
do it right?
We believe that the following 10 steps should be adopted as a
national standard in child abuse investigations:
Prior Planning: Prior planning prevents poor performance.
Education: Mastery of vital subject areas including child
development, evidence collection, understanding motivations and false
allegations, interviewing methods and techniques, follow-up
investigations, and the need for interagency cooperation.
Establishing Roles and Responsibilities: Establishment and implementation
of a plan whereby public and private
individuals, departments and agencies work together toward a responsible
and efficient resolution of child abuse allegations.
Objectivity: Creation of a personal and cooperative check and
balance system, including peer and self-evaluation, which promotes
objectivity in every phase of the investigation. Recognition that a professional cannot be
both investigator and advocate.
Documentation: Adoption of a standardized format for documenting
information when a child abuse allegation is made. Such a standardized
format is available.
Collection of Evidence and Testimony: Education in identifying,
locating, collecting, and preserving witness testimony and physical
evidence; procedures for locating and accessing vital resources.
Case Analysis: Adoption of this as a standard procedure. This
process provides investigators with a breakdown of the case and a basic
understanding of the merits of the case after the persons, records and
issues are identified. It further highlights areas of concern and issues
that should be addressed by the investigator.
Case Action Plan: Use of this from the beginning of the
investigation. This prioritizes the steps necessary for efficient
resolution of the allegations and provides for documentation of
milestones achieved and periodic refocusing of the plan.
Proper Interviewing of Child Victims: Establishment of a protocol
for interviewing children that includes education about the advantages
of audio- and videotaping, limits the number of interviews, eliminates
unnecessary interview props, and implements methods for properly
training and evaluating child interviewers.
Summary of Findings and Recommendations: Acquisition of skills necessary for investigators to base
summary comments and recommendations on facts, while carefully considering the
strengths and weaknesses of the case.
The Effect of Interviewer Behavior
In the field of child interviewing, much research has been conducted
on the effects of the interviewer's behavior and techniques on the
outcome of an interview. Another area of concern is the interviewer's
own expectations and bias going into the interview. According to a recent
study by Kendall-Tackett and Watson (1991):
The results of the present study indicate that professionals' gender, professions, and expectations can influence their
perceptions of behavioral indicators. The influence of interview factors
occurred regardless of the age of the child. Previous research has
focused on how interviewers' behavior affects
children, especially concentrating on the effects of leading questions
or use of anatomical dolls. There seems to have been an assumption that
all interviewers approach children the same way. Yet this is clearly not
the case.... Our future training of interviewers should incorporate
information about possible sources of bias. Interviewers who are alert to
these may be better equipped to elicit more accurate information loom
children (p.p. 394-395).
A final area of concern centers on the false assumption that
interviewers are capable of reporting the statements made by the child
(not to mention the child's affect) with 100% accuracy. Something must
be done to challenge the common court practice of simply adopting the
"verbatim" notes of the interviewer without question. One
method for accomplishing this might be to introduce a line of
questioning into the process of qualifying the interviewer that
establishes the degree of accuracy possible when documenting the child
An example of this line of questioning occurred in the case of State
of Washington vs. Patrick Bayne, Cause No. 90-1-00668-3. In
response to questions posed by attorney Mark Mestel, Cindy Long, an
Interview Specialist for Snohomish County, Washington testified about
the accuracy of notes taken during an interview:
Miss long, is it your testimony that everything in your report is
verbatim what was said during the interview?
As much as possible, yes.
So is your answer no, it's not all verbatim?
At the time I believe it was verbatim.
What proficiency do you have in taking down what people say to you?
Have you ever been tested to see if you take it
I haven't been tested in terms of this. I do know shorthand and I
was tested in that.
And with what degree of skill?
The last time I was tested several years ago was ninety words per minute.
What degree of accuracy?
I believe ninety-five percent.
So you had a five percent error rate when you were doing it full
time, is that right?
So you admit that there is a potential that everything in here is
not accurate in your report.
There's a potential for that. Yes.
Further questions from Mr. Mestel to the same witness in the same
cause elicited the following testimony:
Okay. Now, why is it you don't tape record these interviews?
It's not the policy of the agencies that I was doing the work for
to tape record them.
Where is this policy recorded?
I never asked to see a record of that policy.
So you're not aware whether there is a recorded policy, a written
I'm not aware if there's a recorded one, no.
Okay. From whom did you receive this policy?
I believe it would have been in my training with Candy
Don't you agree that you would get a more accurate rendition of
what was said if it was electronically recorded?
I would assume if everything worked as it's supposed to, yes, you
And you could always take notes as a back-up, is that right?
That's true ...
Would you agree that a lot of what you use in evaluating the child
has to do not only with what actually is said but how it's said?
I guess I need you to define to me what you mean by evaluating a child.
Well, as you're asking questions, don't the answers suggest other
questions for you to ask?
And isn't it also the demeanor and the way the child makes certain
statements that cause you to ask other questions?
And isn't it true your notes can't reflect the inflection or the
tone of the child's voice?
And is there some reason why you don't videotape these interviews?
Again, it's not the policy of the agencies that I was doing the
But at times you'll make notations concerning demeanor, won't you?
Yes, I will.
About the child looking down, or becoming tearful, or becoming
happy, or whatever may be the case?
And you only have you as a basis for that, is that right?
And there's no way that you try to preserve that, is that right?
Other than making the notation in your interview notes.
Besides the obvious revelation that so-called "verbatim
notes" should be questioned, such a line of questioning
substantiates the need for the adoption of audio- or videotaped
interviews of children in abuse cases.
In the immediate future, cities, counties, states, public/private
individuals, and agencies will have to address child interviewing
issues, and develop and adopt standards for investigating cases that
bring integrity to child interviews, medical examinations of children, and child abuse investigations in general.
organizations and public agencies also need to address the need for an
evaluation program for child interviewers and child abuse investigators
and case workers.
In the field of child interviewing, nationally accepted standards and
protocols need to be developed and adhered to by professionals who earn
their living interviewing children. There should be a movement by all
professionals to establish a certification process that is based upon
research, rather than on unsupported subjective opinions and clinical
experience. The standards could begin at the individual state
movement to certify Sexual Offender Treatment Providers that recently
occurred in the State of Washington is a good indication that there is a
groundswell of support for a system of protocols that will legitimize
the processing and investigation of abuse cases.
Post-event contamination must be addressed now. Research must be
conducted to bring about the necessary changes in the interviewing of children.
Professionals who interview
children must identity weaknesses and make necessary corrections.
Controversy will most likely rage about just which protocol should be
used. A division among the child interviewers is likely. Many
professionals have mixed opinions about child testimony and how
children should be interviewed. The use of the anatomical dolls and
other aids is an example of such disagreement. However, there is general
agreement among competent professionals about the important principles and broad guidelines.
of opinion is that children should be encouraged to relate what happened
in their own words without the interviewer asking suggestive questions
that contaminate the interview.
In the field of child abuse investigations, law enforcement officials, child protective service workers, mental
health professionals, prosecutors, defense lawyers and investigators, and other professionals must take a more
aggressive approach to investigating child abuse allegations. Training
and educating personnel about the issues of child abuse has never been
more important. These professionals must learn the importance of "Doing the
investigation right the first time" to a child victim as well as a
person accused of abusing.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
(Modified December 14, 1990). Guidelines for the clinical evaluation of
child and adolescent sexual abuse.
of Pediatrics. (February, 1991). Guidelines for the evaluation of sexual abuse
of children. Pediatrics, 87(2).
American Medical Association. (December, 1984).
AMA diagnostic and
treatment guidelines concerning child abuse and neglect. Reference
Committee E, p. 431. Chicago, IL.
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. (1990).
Guidelines for psychosocial evaluation of suspected sexual abuse in
young children. Chicago, IL.
American Psychological Association. (March, 1991).
Specialty guidelines for forensic psychologists. Committee on Ethical
Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists. Washington, DC.
Bulkley, J., & Davidson, H. A. (1980). Child sexual abuse:
issues and approaches. Washington. DC: National Legal Resource Center
for Child Advocacy and Protection, American Bar Association.
Chapter 26 - - Child Protective
Services (01,89). Policy, program and performance standards, service procedures, case records,
required forms and instruction. Olympia, Washington.
Cole, C. B., & Loftus, E. F. (1987). The memory of children. In S.
J. Ceci, M. P. Toglia, & D. F. Ross (Eds.), Children's
(pp.178-208). New York: Springer-Verlag.
Daly, L. W. (1988). Innocence, the Ragged Edge (). Tacoma, WA:
Advanced Media Northwest.
Daly, L. W. (1991a). Child Abuse Investigations (). Seattle, WA:
Daly, L. W. (1991b). The essentials of child abuse investigation and
child interviews. Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, 3(2),
Kendall-Tackett, K., & Watson, M. (1991). Factors that influence
professionals' perceptions of behavioral indicators of child sexual
of Interpersonal Violence, 6, 385-395.
McFarlane, K., & Krebs, S. (1989). Videotaping of interviews and
court testimony. In K. McFarlane & J. Waterman, Sexual Abuse of
Young Children ()()
(pp. 164-96). New York: The Guilford
National Federation of Societies for Clinical Social Work. (May,
1988). Code of ethics. Arlington, VA.
National Association of Social Workers. (1990).
Code of ethics. Silver Spring, MD.
Perry, N. W., & Wrightsman, L. S. (1991). The Child Witness
Newbury Park, CA: Sage
Raskin, D. C.. & Yuille, J. C. (1989). Problems in evaluating
interviews of children in sexual abuse cases. In S. J. Ceci, D. F. Ross,
& M. P. Toglia (Eds.), Perspective on Children's Testimony ()
184-207). New York: Springer-Verlag.
Underwager, R. & Wakefield, H. (1990). The Real World of
Child Interrogations (). Springfield, IL.
Charles C. Thomas.
(August, 1987). Law Society Journal, 49-53.
Working Agreement between
the Division of Children and Family
Services, Law Enforcement within King County
and the King County Prosecutor's
Office. (November 1, 1988). Seattle, WA.
Yuille, J. C., Hunter, R., Joffe., R., & Zaparniuk, J. (in
press). Interviewing Children in Sexual Abuse Cases. University of British Columbia.
[Back to Volume 4, Number 1]
[Other Articles by this Author]