How does interviewing children differ from interviewing adults?
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Cederborg, A. C., Alm, C., Lima da Silva Nises, D., & Lamb, M. E. (2013). Investigative interviewing of alleged child abuse victims: an evaluation of a new training programme for investigative interviewers. Police Practice and Research, 14(3), 242-254.
The article address the fact that forensic interviewing with young witnesses and victims often fails to adhere to guidelines and thus the validity and outcome of these interviews is questionable. Due to this discouraging fact, a new training program for investigative interviewers was created and evaluated in this study. Earlier studies has suggested that the use of open-ended questioning greatly enhances both the richness and the accuracy of children’s report. This is believed to be due to the fact that open-ended questioning causes children to actually search their memory when retelling what they have witnessed or experienced rather than answering yes or no to leading questions or choosing an option provided by the interviewer. Furthermore, research has shown that using information already provided by the child and further elaborating on earlier answers greatly increased the completeness of children’s reports. The article further states that when interviewing children, the interviewer must be aware of how the children perceive them, especially in terms of knowledge and status. A child might report something that he or she thinks the interviewer want to hear or the child might abstain from telling the interviewer about certain details because he or she thinks the interviewer already knows every detail. Because of this, it is important for the interviewer to start of the interview with some “ground rules”, such as it is okay to say “I don’t know” and that repeated questions does not mean that their first answer was wrong. Furthermore, a practice phase where the child gets to practice giving information regarding a neutral topic is also beneficial.
Despite previous studies that have shown that the use of leading questions and option-posing questions cause error, these techniques are still commonly used, even by highly trained police officers. In the current study, a number of participants went through a new training programme for investigative interviewers. Due to ethical reason, the ages of all the children interviewed in the current study is not known. However, of the known ages, the average age was 10 years of age. The researchers compared participants’ interviewing styles before and after the training and concluded that the training had great positive effects such as interviewers asking fewer suggestive and option-posing questions. Open-ended invitations lead to longer and more detailed reports which led to the interviewers having to ask fewer questions.
It is very important to evaluate training programmes of this kind. Since research show that even highly trained interviews resort to interview techniques that has shown to have detrimental effects of the length and accuracy of children’s reports, it is important to examine how the training programmes are designed and how they can be improved to change this. However, one should be careful in drawing any general conclusions based on one evaluation. Even though this specific training program seemed to change the participants interviewing styles for the better, this may not be the case with similar training programmes or even the same training programme with different participants. Furthermore, it would be helpful to conduct a follow-up study to see if the training stayed consistent with time.
Additionally, the ages of the all the children interviewed in the study was not known. Because of this, it can be hard to evaluate any age related differences in terms of amount of information elicited. However, research provided in the article states that regardless of