“Competence And Intelligence” - The Futuristic Outlook

By Lawrence W. Daly

‘Intelligence’ refers to both skill and end-product”

The ideas that there may be different, creative, innovative and sophisticated methods and techniques which would propel child sexual abuse investigations into the second decade of the 21st century is something all law enforcement officials are looking to identify, locate, and utilize. In the search for a better way of conducting child interviews, it is those who work in the fact-finding field who will create a new and futuristic outlook which entails a reliable, legitimate and integras system in which to interview children. The professionals, who work in the fact-finding aspects of an allegation of child sexual abuse, need to have tools available to them which will enhance and secure the truth of the matter. The futuristic outlook appears to be positive, rewarding, informative and daring.

The Child Interview

There are many child sexual abuse camps where professionals utilize a variety of mixed ideas, methods and techniques to interview child sexual abuse victims. Some of the child interview methods have been researched and legitimized as protocols and procedures which have sound integrity rules, practices and purposes are rising to the top. The problem is not with the protocol and procedures, but with the child interviewers. Sometimes called forensic interviewers. There is no rhyme or reason why these professionals call themselves a child interviewer or a forensic interviewer. It is unlikely that these roles and titles will likely change over the next decade. The problem is every professional who advocates for their professional child interview protocols and procedures are finding it difficult to acquiesce or agree on which protocol and procedure is the correct one to be certified under.

In 2007 American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) and American Prosecutors Research Institute came together and conducted a mail survey on the “Creation of a Diplomate Program in Child Forensic Interviewing and if it would be beneficial to front line child protection professionals. The survey results were as follows:

1.      88.9% agreed or strongly agreed that the creation of the Diplomate Program would be beneficial.
2.      8.7% of the respondents were neutral to the idea.
3.      2.4% disagreed or strongly disagreed.
Further results:
1.      60% of the respondents expressed the view that a Diplomate status, standing alone, “would negatively impact the perceived competence of interviewers who do not have Diplomate status.”

The National Association of Certified Child Forensic Interviewers (NACCFI) is another organization which has proposed the development of standards for the field of forensic interviewing. These three organizations have a plethora of child interviewers who want to establish a credential program so they will appear to a judge or jury as being competent and intelligent in the manner they conduct child sexual abuse interviews.
This could not be further from the truth as a title, certificate, degree doesn’t endorse competence and intelligence in a field which desperately needs to establish rules, ethics, regulations, protocols, procedures, a process and most importantly an evaluation system which is performed on each interview the child interviewer conducts in the first three years. Without an evaluation system, the child interviewer will continue to make the same mistakes over and over and possibly contaminate the testimony of a child. If contamination occurs the criminal justice system may have just criminally charged an individual with a crime he/she didn’t commit. Moreover, the contamination may have allowed a guilty man/woman to walk away from criminal charges. The value of the child interviewer’s actions can only be described as a major and significant role in the criminal justice system. A role which determines if a child is ultimately protected from further child sexual abuse or not.

There are no forensic interview standards which promote the need for an evaluation system which calls upon the supervisors to walk hand in hand with the child interviewer; teaching them the role of the fact-finding interviewer. The problem with allowing civilians to conduct the child interviews are they rarely ask questions which deal with the relevant and material aspects of the alleged crime. The child interviewers expend too much time on the alleged touching and not on statements made by the adults around the child; what exposure to other sexual themes has the child been introduced to; motives to make up the allegations; failure to detect prior contamination and etc. The child attentions span is probably one of the most significant factors a child interviewer must pay attention to and make the reasonable and necessary decision.

The child interviewer generally has 10-15 minutes to interview a child 7 and under. The protocols and procedures which are being taught generalize that a child interviewer build rapport and then move into guideline and rules; then into body parts; and then into the alleged touching; and then the closure of the interview. The reason this antiquated child interview system doesn’t work is because the child interviewer is expending at least half the interview time on the first four to five phases of the interview. This procedure limits the child interviewer to ascertaining the important aspects of finding the truth of what happened to the child victim. If the child interviewer follows such a protocol, the child will fatigue at the 10-15 minute mark and will become recalcitrant when asked questions.
The child’s world is so much different that an adult world. The child interviewer must understand that a child interview has to have rhythm, cadence, sequence and understand the time in which there is little of.  In a recent child interview of a five year old female the child interviewer exhausted three-quarters of the interview following the four to five sequence steps. When it came to asking her questions she was exhausted and had little patience for the child interviewer. Several times the child tried to walk out of the child interview room, which left the child interviewer with the only option available to her and that was to lie to the child and tell her that she only had one question left for her to answer. This worked for approximately five times and then the child finally exited the child interview room. The child interviewer demonstrated a lack of understanding how children behave in a child abuse interview.

The answers to what I have detailed today demonstrate a child interviewer needs to receive training and education in the area of the development of children. Child interviewers should become competent and intelligent child interviewers. There are simply incompetent and clumsy child interviewers who have no idea what they have been and are currently doing. Their conduct is professionally unacceptable. There are some competent and intelligent child interviewers, but they seem to be the minor and not the standard. They are allowed to exist because there is no futuristic evaluation system which will hold everyone responsible and accountable for their actions in the child interview setting.

Tomorrow, I will continue to examine and evaluate the common sensical ideologies of those who work within the child protection, child advocate, child interviewers and law enforcement officials who are responsible in ascertaining the truth from children who possibly have been sexually and physically abused. 
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