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Interviewing the Preschool Child


The challenge is to recognize the limitations of word meaning for children. And to craft questions that get at those limitations'. ( Graffam-Walker, 1994) ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Interviewing the Preschool Child

Interviewing the Preschool Child
  • Improving Investigations and Prosecution of
    Child Abuse
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • October 21, 2009
  • Marcella Rustioni, LCSW Kelly Bober,
  • Arlington County CAC
    Winchester-Frederick CAC
  • Forensic Interviewer Director

  • Ages 3 to 6
  • 3 and 4
  • 5 and 6
  • Language skills
  • Cognitive development
  • Social and Emotional development
  • Genital/Sexual development
  • Memory
  • Suggestibility
  • Disclosure process
  • An act does not cease to be an act if the words
    used to describe it are not mutually understood
    nor does it become a lie. The challenge is to
    recognize the limitations of word meaning for
    children. And to craft questions that get at
    those limitations. (Graffam-Walker, 1994)
  • The problem with communication ... is the
    illusion that it has been accomplished. (George
    Bernard Shaw)

Language and Cognition (3 and 4)
  • Still learning prepositions
  • Working on colors and counting
  • Superficial and inaccurate cause and effect link
  • Cannot shift perspective
  • Fantasy and reality are blurred mixes wishful
    thinking with facts
  • Very egocentric
  • Concrete and literal thinkers
  • May say something even if they do not know what
    it means
  • Practicing rote memory (ABCs)
  • Idea of right and wrong or good or bad depends on
    consequences not intentions
  • May not fully grasp concept of truth versus lie

Language and Cognition (3 and 4)
  • May not always know where their information comes
    from (source monitoring)
  • Starting to learn to classify information
  • Time is NOT well understood
  • Does not fully understand kinship relationships
  • Can remember events for years
  • Use drawings- takes time and effort
  • Expect their communication to be disorganized
  • Communicate using language, emotions, behaviors
    (may not match)
  • Representational shift (symbolic representation
    of self) emerges between age 3 and 4

Social and Emotional (3 and 4)
  • Responds well to and seeks praise encouragement
  • All or nothing feelings
  • Sees family as central
  • Identifies with parents and older kids likes to
    imitate them
  • Tends to be protective of parents
  • Growing social network, more relationships
  • Wants to be independent thinks they are more
    capable than they really are
  • Gender identity is becoming more important but is
    not necessarily permanent
  • More suggestible than other people
  • Thinks that adult know everything
  • It is normal to be active, fidgety, distractible,
  • Eye contact may be inconsistent (cultural norms)

Genital/Sexual (3 and 4)
  • Touches/rubs own genitals
  • Watches/asks about body functions
  • Still touches breasts
  • Waver between being uninhibited and inhibited
  • Will mimic caretakers- playing house, playing
  • Kiss and hold hands with adults and peers
  • Private parts are both funny and serious
  • Modesty is starting to development

Assessing Allegations of Sexual Abuse in
Preschool ChildrenUnderstanding Small Voices
(Sandra Hewitt, 1999)
  • Stage 2 Interview
  • These young children can participate in abuse
    assessment, but this is a period of transitioning
    skills. The emergence of several new skills
    across this time requires that the assessor
    carefully evaluate the current status of these
    childrens capabilities to ensure that the best
    match between interview style and the skills of
    the child is offered.

As kids get older . 5 and 6
  • Still egocentric
  • Still make erroneous causal links
  • Still struggle with the concept of time and space
  • Family is still central
  • Still mimic older kids and adults
  • All or nothing thinking still persists
  • --------------------------------------------------
  • Larger vocabulary (by age 6, average child has a
    working vocabulary of 8,000 to 14,000 words)
  • Understand truth and lie better
  • Source monitoring improves
  • Representational shift is firmly in place
  • Better at classifying things (older, younger)
  • Growing social network
  • Modesty and shame are very real feelings
  • Gender identity is permanent
  • More symbolic play
  • Are protective of parents
  • Better understanding of time (understand
    yesterday, tomorrow, sometimes, never,

Assessing Allegations of Sexual Abuse in
Preschool ChildrenUnderstanding Small Voices
(Sandra Hewitt, 1999)
  • Stage 3 Interview
  • Most of these children are able to respond to
    standardized interview formats however, there
    are still important interview abilities they do
    not possess. (e.g. time)

  • There is some evidence that children as young as
    33 hours old can recognize auditory stimuli
    presented during the last trimester of pregnancy.
  • A childs memory is affected by 3 factors
  • the status of the child
  • the nature of the interviewing
  • the nature of the material to be remembered
  • Trauma affects memory the best understanding of
    the effects of trauma on a child seems to be
    related to the childs judgment of the meaning of
    the event
  • Repeated meaningful incidences can increase
    memory retrieval, sometimes
  • Even very young children can store memories of
    early experiences
  • Many young children can accurately retrieve early
    memories over time
  • The way an event is processed, understood, and
    perceived affects memory.

  • Young kids do not spontaneously give detailed and
    complete accounts of their experiences
    preschoolers especially have underdeveloped free
    recall and need retrieval cues
  • Young children need help from interviewers to
    retrieve memories through interviewer
    organization, scaffolding or cuing.
  • Young children give less spontaneous information
    than older children.
  • Children who come from a secure, organized, and
    nurturing home and who have experienced one
    incident of abuse often present their abuse with
    clarity and specifics
  • Some research shows that simply asking the child
    to remember something increased the actual
    memory the demand increased the memory
  • Memory of an event tends to fade with time in
    both children and adults.

Suggestibility the degree to which ones
memory or recounting of an event is influenced by
suggested information or misinformation or the
extent to which individuals come to accept and
subsequently incorporate post-event information
into their memory recollections
  • Young childrens words alone may not be enough to
    sustain the weight of the full allegations
  • Young children ARE credible reporters in the
    absence of leading and suggestive questions
  • Preschool age children tend to be more vulnerable
    to suggestion than school age kids or adults
  • Childrens resistance to suggestibility matures
    with age and cognitive maturation
  • It is possible for young children to rewrite an
    ending to the abuse
  • Children tend to be more suggestible if they
    perceive the interviewer to be authoritarian,
    unfriendly, or intimidating.
  • Children are more likely to be mislead when they
    do not understand what is expected of them
  • Children are more likely to be suggestible if
    they think the interviewer knows about the event
    in question
  • Children can exaggerate for attention and

Disclosure how do children tell?
  • No Disclosure
  • No abuse
  • Pre-disclosure
  • Tentative/Ambiguous Disclosure
  • Denial
  • Avoidant
  • vague
  • Active Disclosure
  • Purposeful
  • Accidental
  • Recanting/Retraction
  • Internal and external pressure
  • Children 4 and under may not see abuse as
    shameful they are not as good about keeping
  • Children 5 and older are more prone to feelings
    of shame, but are less suggestible than younger

Types of Disclosure
  • Accidental
  • revealed by chance
  • usually younger children
  • often in the context of care routines
  • 74 of cases
  • Impetus
  • exposure to perpetrator
  • sexual behaviors
  • inappropriate statement
  • child confided in peer who told
  • journal/diary entry found
  • injury discovered
  • other evidence found (ex photos, gifts)

Barriers to Disclosure
  • Shame
  • Modesty
  • Non-supportive caretakers
  • Battered mothers/DV in the home
  • Pressure by family members
  • Fear of negative consequences
  • Fear/anxiety during interview
  • Developmental delays
  • Severe trauma
  • Cognitive delays

Barriers and Interview Tips
  • Modest/Shy Trauma
  • Slow down the pace Breaks/Stop
  • Drawings Water
  • Sit catty corner Be matter of fact
  • Direct questions Direct questions
  • Reassurance
  • Pass markers/crayons back and forth
  • Active
  • Medication?
  • Draw something for child and redirect them to
    color it in
  • Increase the pace

Before the interview
  • Be prepared (know what your jurisdiction
  • Be consistent (within jurisdictions)
  • Know about child development, memory,
  • Rely on your team
  • Have your Toolbox
  • muliticultural colored pencils, crayons, markers
    (avoid pencils)
  • blank paper or easel
  • anatomical drawings
  • anatomically detailed drawings (Teach-a-Bodies)
  • play dough / therapuddy
  • Create a child-friendly space

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Interview Instructions
  • Explain your role
  • Let the child know s/he can correct you
  • There are no right or wrong answers
  • Let the child know you need for them to teach you
  • It is ok to interrupt
  • It is ok to take a break
  • It is ok to say they do not know the answer (I
    dont know vs. I dont want to talk about it)
  • If you ask the same question more than once it
    does not mean you want them to change their
    answer. It means you want to understand them
  • Test out hypotheses

During the interview.
  • Do Do not
  • Keep it simple Make assumptions
  • Be patient Double up on questions
  • Be ok with pauses Not ask for permission
  • Listen carefully Apologize for your drawings
  • Pay attention to body language Talk about
  • Prompt/Redirect Say special, story,
  • Use drawings pretend
  • Let kids know they are not in trouble with
    you Use pronouns
  • Focus on one thing at a time Do therapy
  • Ask sensory questions Touch the child
  • Ask how kids know React
  • Fill in the blanks Be afraid to end a sentence
  • Repeat what child said (exception) a
  • Assess developmental levels Use double

  • Establish comfort
  • Takes away intensity
  • Enhances recollections of details
  • Helps prod memory
  • Refocuses child
  • Provides evidentiary information
  • Slows things down
  • Face
  • Family
  • House
  • Pets
  • Crime scene

Sensory Questions
  • What does that feel like, taste like, look like,
  • What did you see?
  • What did you hear?
  • I want to know what you saw with your own eyes,
    heard with your ears and felt with your own skin

Developmental Assessment
  • Starts in the rapport building phase
  • Assess understanding of prepositions
  • inside, outside, up, down, in
    out, before, after
  • Assess understanding of time
  • avoid asking how long ago?
  • ask one time or more than one time two
    times or more than two times
  • Assess understanding of truth versus lie

Language tips (Anne Graffam Walker, Handbook on
Questioning Children, 1994)
  • ahead of and behind are used to talk about
    space and time consider in front of and in
    back of
  • Use versions of some rather than any
  • Use at the same time instead of while
  • Be careful about do you remember. Remember
    implies there was a string of events. Do you
    remember telling your teacher that Sam hit you.
    Break it down.
  • Use the active voice. Did John hit you versus
    Were you hit by John? (passive voice)
  • Avoid tag questions Its nice outside isnt

Language tips (Anne Graffam Walker, Handbook on
Questioning Children, 1994)
  • When kids repeat what you say do not treat this
    as an affirmation they could be confused or
    simply practicing something new
  • Place the main question before the qualifier
    What did you do when he hit you rather than
    When he hit you, what did you do?
  • Avoid convert verbs into nouns Tell me about
    how he hit you rather than Tell me about the
  • Be aware of cultural norms that impact language
    and communication

Guidelines for Age-Appropriate Questions
  • Erickson, Claire and Erickson, Mary. A Monster
    is Bigger then 9. The Green Tiger Press San
    Diego, CA, 1988.
  • Graffam-Walker, Anne (1994). Handbook on
    Questioning Children A Linguistic Perspective.
    ABA Center on Children and the Law.
  • Hewitt, Sandra (1999). Assessing Allegations of
    Sexual Abuse in Preschool Children Understanding
    Small Voices. Sage Publications.
  • Poole, Debra A. and Lamb, . Investigative
    Interviews of Children A Guide for Helping
    Professionals, American Psychological
    Association, Third Printing 2002.
  • Sorenson, T., Snow, B. (1991). How children
    tell The process of disclosure in child sexual
    abuse. Child Welfare, 70 (1), 3-15.
  • Steinmetz, Melissa McDermott. (1997).
    Interviewing for Child Sexual Abuse Strategies
    for balancing Forensic and Therapeutic Factors.
    Jalice Publishers.