The importance of skilled interviewing

Because of their developmental immaturity, child witnesses face many disadvantages in the legal system, but these can be substantially offset by a skilled interviewer. Not only must an interviewer facilitate a child to say as much as he or she can remember, but the interview must be conducted so that its process and content will be considered to be acceptable evidence by the court.

Psychological research guides the practice of interviewing child witnesses. Some principles are outlined in Table 1... A helpful review of the theory and practice of interviewing child witnesses is given by Saywitz and Camparo.(!4)

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Table 1 Guidelines for interviewing child witnesses

In England and Wales, and in the United States, guidelines have been developed for investigators who interview child witnesses. (1 ,16) Both these procedures use phased interviewing in which, after a period of rapport building, the child is first invited to provide information by free recall. The interviewer then prompts further recollection by open questions and only asks more specific questions towards the end of the interview. Investigators who interview children for the purposes of the court require special training in these techniques.

Drawing and playing with dolls can act as useful prompts for younger children. The use of anatomical dolls to enable children to demonstrate sexual abusive behaviour remains controversial. The whole practice of interviewing child witnesses depends on the skill of the interviewer to use all means of communication in a developmentally appropriate manner and to recognize the limitations of their use. Anatomical dolls are therefore only useful when used by skilled interviewers.

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