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 commonplace.

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:

1.    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.
2. 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 to another.
3. Child interviewers rely heavily on one-day to one-week seminars that allegedly stress child interviewing and investigative techniques.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 interviewer.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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 interview methods.
14. There are no local, state or national child interview certification processes and/or evaluation processes.
15. History questions about the alleged abuse are not properly prepared by the child interviewer.
16. 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 alleged abuse.
17. 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.
18. 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 questioned.

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.  The 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 investigations continue.

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.  The 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.  The 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.  They 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.  An 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 abuse investigations.

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 interviewers.

American Academy of Pediatrics

"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 Policy Statement:


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 psychologist.


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 questions.


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 videotaping.

These guidelines have been developed to assist clinicians performing interviews and are recommended but there is currently no way to enforce these standards.

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.  We 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 members.

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.

Child Protective 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 last resort.

King County Working Agreement

The King County's Division of Children and Family Services, Law Enforcement within King County, and the King County Prosecutor's Office, 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 benefits them.

Setting up a National Protocol and Evaluation System: A Suggested Protocol

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:

Interview Protocol

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)


Meet the child and accompanying adult in the waiting area.  Address the child first, then the adult.  Attention 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 relationship.


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.


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.


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.


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, 1991a, 1991b):

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, 1991a, 1991b)

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 interview.


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 witnesses.


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 questions.


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 subjective viewpoints.


As State v. Sheppard (1984) documented with some children, videotaping may increase the accuracy of testimony. (Perry & Wrightsman, 1991).

Becoming an Effective Interviewer

Educational Qualifications

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 be standardized.

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.  We created and use the following form for evaluating the child interviewers who are employed by us as well as for observing other child interviewers.

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 interviews.

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 interviewing children.


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.  The 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).

Interviewers' Notes

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 interview.

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 down accurately?


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 policy?


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 Ashbrook.


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 would.


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?


Sometimes, yes.


And isn't it true your notes can't reflect the inflection or the tone of the child's voice?


That's true.


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 interviews for.


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?


That's correct.


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.  Private 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 level.  The 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.  The consensus 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.

American Academy 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: Legal 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 Eyewitness Memory (Out of Print) (pp.178-208). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Daly, L. W. (1988). Innocence, the Ragged Edge (Out of Print). Tacoma, WA: Advanced Media Northwest.

Daly, L. W. (1991a). Child Abuse Investigations (Out of Print). Seattle, WA: Katelynn Productions.

Daly, L. W. (1991b). The essentials of child abuse investigation and child interviews. Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, 3(2), 90-98.

Kendall-Tackett, K., & Watson, M. (1991). Factors that influence professionals' perceptions of behavioral indicators of child sexual abuse. Journal 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 (Paperback (1988))(Paperback (1995)) (pp. 164-96). New York: The Guilford Press.

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 (Hardcover)(Paperback). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

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 (Hardcover) (pp. 184-207). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Underwager, R. & Wakefield, H. (1990). The Real World of Child Interrogations (Hardcover). Springfield, IL. Charles C. Thomas.

Walsh, G. (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.

* Lawrence W. Daly is the director of Daly Consulting & Investigations, 600 First Avenue, Pioneer Building, Suite 313, Seattle, Washington 98104.  [Back]

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