IPT Book Reviews

Title: Children Speak for Themselves: Using the Kempe Interactional Assessment to Evaluate Allegations of Parent-Child Sexual Abuse
Authors: Clare Haynes-Seman and David Baumgarten
Publisher: Brunner/Mazel, Inc., 1994

Brunner/Mazel, Inc.
19 Union Square West
New York, NY 10003
(800) 825-3089
$25.95 (c)

The authors of this 192-page book use attachment theory to support their claim that all parties involved in a sexual abuse allegation should be interviewed by skilled, experienced workers who know and use the Kempe Interactional Assessment (KIA). The authors believe that sexual abuse allegations cannot be properly evaluated without interviewing both parents, separately in cases of divorce and together in intact families. The child is present during the interview with the parents, and prior to the interview there is an unstructured play period with the parents. Observation of these interactions is seen as the key to understanding the family relationships. The authors stress that the interactions should all be videotaped and shared with the defense counsel and they point out that the assessment must not only be clinically reliable but must withstand the adversarial legal procedures. They maintain that "validation of the abuse does not depend on the verbal disclosure of the child, confession of the perpetrator, or the conviction of the other parent that abuse has occurred. It depends on gathering and sifting through information from multiple sources" (pp. 33-34).

Despite the admirable goals of the KIA, there are serious difficulties with it. The biggest problem is the assumption that behavior cues can be used to determine whether abuse happened. The authors state, "If abuse has occurred, the child will give subtle signs of anxiety that might be missed without the videotape. If the child has been drawn into making false statements, the child's anxiety will be expressed differently . . . " (p. 22). But there is no empirical support for this claim nor for their assumption that "symbolic play themes" can be used to draw conclusions about abuse. Techniques such as anatomical dolls and drawings are recommended, although there is no scientific evidence that such techniques are helpful. In fact, the book reproduces several drawings and interprets "signs," such as missing ears, the absence of feet, and phallic shapes. Although numerous case histories are presented, several are vague and subject to different interpretations. The references at the end of the book are limited and dated.

This book is only recommended to clinicians who know the literature well enough to learn something from the suggestions about interviewing the whole family while also understanding the book's serious limitations.

Reviewed by LeRoy G. Schultz, Emeritus Professor, West Virginia University.

Order this book: Hardcover

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