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Guidance on Joint Investigative Interviewing of Child Witnesses in Scotland

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PART 3: CONDUCTING THE JOINT INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEW

69. While planning a JII is underway, it is still possible to record information offered by children in response to open prompts for information, while arrangements are being made for urgent action such as placing the child in a place of safety, or making medical examinations. Indeed, any police officer or social worker could do this, acting in the same way as any person who is an initial receiver of the child's information.

70. All interviewers should be trained in accordance with the revised National Curriculum on JIIT and deemed competent through recognised competence evaluation/accreditation arrangements.

Implications of visual recording for conducting the interview

71. Visual recording provides a far superior record of an interview than 'verbatim' note taking, and frees the second interviewer to devote more attention to the child and interview. It is for the discretion of procurators fiscal or children's reporters whether or not to use the recordings; however, the recording must be disclosed to the defence if the content is to be used in a criminal prosecution as evidence of a suspect's guilt or if the content is classified by procurator fiscal/children's reporter as relevant material for the purpose of disclosure (set out in paragraphs 213- 215 on points of principle). In terms of disclosure the recording will have to be disclosed to all parties involved. Information gleaned during the course of the visually recorded interview may be useful in other contexts, e.g. actions to safeguard the child's welfare and/or the welfare of other children.

72. Using visual recording offers opportunities to improve the quality of interviews, and also makes the standard more apparent. This has several implications, and generally means that it is clearer whether or not best practice has been followed.

73. The recording includes all of the statements, pauses, body language and demeanour of the interviewer(s), as well as those of the child and any supporters present. As well as the information provided by the child that may be of evidential value, this also gives a clear impression to the viewer of how evidence was obtained.

74. It is acknowledged that safeguarding the child supersedes forensic requirements (see paragraphs 3 and 38). If the interview develops in a way that is likely to make use of the interview as evidence difficult because, for example, the child alludes to an alleged offence that may not be pursued, the interview should continue. The fact that an interview is being visually recorded must not alter good practice on such issues in order to attempt to meet forensic requirements.

75. Further proceedings should not be seen as the 'aim' of visually recording an interview, just as when carrying out a non-visually recorded JII. The main reason for recording is to provide an accurate and full record of the interview, and there are a range of appropriate courses of subsequent action. However the fact that a recording may be viewed in a court with the rules of evidence that this entails should always be borne in mind by interviewers, and form a key part of their specialist training. This will include the need to note reasons for decisions made throughout the interview process.

Immediately pre-interview

Transportation to interview

76. As far as possible any conversation about the case should be avoided during the journey to the interview. If however the child raises issues material to the case or its circumstances, the conversation should be directed back to neutral topics. A comprehensive written record of any conversation that took place during transportation should be made at the earliest possible time after the journey as this is a potential area for cross-examination in court.

Technical checks

77. At the planning stage, contingency plans for technical difficulties should be agreed. If the problem is anything other than minor, that is to say where there is no immediate obvious cause which can be easily remedied, it may be better to postpone the interview and reschedule it, rather than keep re-starting or leaving the child waiting.

Information to record at the start

78. The time and date, the personnel involved, the location of the interview, the name and age of the child, the reason for the interview and the identities of anyone else present need to be recorded. These should be stated by the interviewer before the child enters the room.

The phases of the interview

79. All investigative interviews with a child should include the following broad phases

  • Introductions
  • Rapport
  • Practice Interview (when appropriate - see paragraph 108)
  • Free Narrative
  • Questioning
  • Closure

80. When visually recording, if any of these phases are missed, or the pace is too fast, then it is obvious to anyone watching the recording. For this reason, if a phase has already taken place, for example rapport building on the journey to the interview suite, the interviewer should mention this for the benefit of those viewing or listening to the recording.

81. The interview framework described here is similar to other interview formats described in the literature about interviewing children (e.g .the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development ( NICHD) structured investigative interview protocol). The general principle behind this approach is to elicit as accurate and comprehensive an account as possible of event(s) from a child, an account that may withstand scrutiny of the court as legally sound testimony. Although there are six distinct phases to the interview, there may be some overlap between these and interviewers should be prepared to switch back and forth between them as appropriate.

82. To apply effectively the techniques described in this guidance in an actual interview setting requires a considerable amount of skill and practice from interviewers. Therefore, JII training (as per the National Curriculum) must have been undertaken before live interviews are conducted, and this should be up-to-date involving proper practice and feedback from other practitioners and trained supervisors, with the visual recordings as a valuable tool in this. JI interviewers should not attempt to use other interviewing techniques in investigative interviews with child witnesses, unless they have received specific training, and that it can be clearly demonstrated that another interviewing technique is more appropriate for a particular child than the approach set out in this guidance.

Introductions and explaining purpose

83. When in the interview room, the lead interviewer should sit with an unobstructed view of the child. If the second interviewer is also in the interview room, then since the child's focus is likely to be directed towards the lead for the substantive part of the interview, the second interviewer should be seated somewhere convenient for observing and making notes of key points. The second interviewer should be listening to the child and actively intervening as necessary but not in a fashion that might come across as confrontational or detrimental to the flow of the interview. As a general rule the second interviewer should keep any interjections to a minimum during the interview and ideally should wait until invited to participate by the lead interviewer. The preferred method should be agreed by the interviewers during the planning phase (see paragraph 50).

84. Interviewers should introduce any persons present in the interview room to the child and explain, in age-appropriate language, why each person is in the room. Any preconceptions or misperceptions about the police and social workers ( e.g. police only come to see people when they are in trouble, or social workers will take children away from their parents) can be addressed at this time. The child's preferred name or mode of address should be established. The purpose of the interview should be explained clearly and simply to the child, who should also be given an opportunity to ask questions. However, generally it is not advisable to spend inordinate time clarifying factual biographical details with the child. Such information should already be available prior to the interview taking place.

EXAMPLE

"Hello (child's name). My name is _____. I am a police officer/social worker/ etc. Part of my job is to listen to children and young people. Sometimes they have things that they want to tell me"

85. Children respond to interviews more successfully when they have a better understanding of the interview purpose. To avoid bias, interviewers should be careful not to introduce the allegation being investigated. Even where the initial concern originated from something the child had said, it is important for the interviewers to hear the child speak freely on this during the course of the interview with minimal prompting. The aim is to obtain the child's memories of the event(s), in their own words.

86. Another point to explain to the child is that the interview will be visually recorded.

EXAMPLE

"We are going to record this interview, because what you say is very important to us and we don't want to miss anything you tell us. Do you have any questions?"

87. The child's understanding of the recording arrangements should be checked and the child offered the chance to ask questions. This should be done regularly throughout the explanation of the interview recording arrangements. Most often the child will be shown the visual recording equipment, the control/monitoring room and how the technology operates (in simple, child-friendly and age-appropriate terms). The intention is to achieve some confidence that the child understands the basic implications of visual recording and how it will work in the course of the interview and not to introduce further areas of concern to the child. However, it is important to check out (by asking the child) that the child is comfortable with the recording arrangements and if they have any other questions about how this works or will be used after the interview is concluded. The focus however should remain on enabling the child to participate effectively so the child should not be burdened with information about the recording arrangements to the detriment of their capacity to participate in the interview. If the child indicates that visual recording worries them, the interviewer should ask what worries them about recording. Whether or not to continue with visual recording should be based on the child's responses and the success or otherwise of the interviewers' efforts to answer questions and reassure the child in respect of their worries or concerns.

Interview atmosphere

88. It is important that interview process is not discussed with the child on the journey to and from the interview centre as all pre-interview contact needs to remain scrupulous and can be subject to critical and or difficult examination later. On arrival, there should be a child friendly waiting area available to accommodate them until the JII interviewers are ready to commence. It is also important that if more than one child is being interviewed they should not have time together between interviews.

89. The child should be enabled to feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible before beginning the interview. Interviewers should try not to over-emphasise their authority in relation to the child as this might cause the child to clam up or to simply agree with whatever the interviewer says. Police interviewers should wear plain clothes rather than uniform. Research suggests that more information can be obtained from a child when the interviewer is not in uniform (Powell, Wilson & Croft, 2001).

90. One possible approach for a very young child is to be sitting down on the floor at eye-level, to shift the balance of control in favour of the child. If this approach is taken, the need to retain the child and interviewer within view of the camera should be addressed during planning, and use of the camera controls by the second interviewer if they are in the control room.

91.The pace of the interview should be dictated primarily by the child. Their developmental age, attention span, the time it takes for them to overcome any initial misgivings they might have, and so on will all affect the length and pace of the interview. The number and complexity of alleged incidents will also impact on the overall duration of the interview.

92. Interviewers should speak slowly and clearly and allow for pauses. They should refrain from interrupting the child or immediately 'jumping in' when the child appears reluctant/unable to talk. In fact, pausing and not interrupting the child is the best technique for allowing the child to search their memory effectively. Interviewers should also speak in a normal voice tone - an affected tone might be construed as trying to impress the child or influence their responses, may convey a sense of worry, or be perceived as patronising.

93. It is acceptable for the interviewer(s) to ask the child to speak up if the child cannot be heard, although the microphones are sensitive. If the second interviewer is monitoring from the control room, this is something they can notify to the lead interviewer. Children are, generally speaking, used to technology and a stilted interview atmosphere is likely to have much more effect on the child than the presence of cameras (Richards et al, 2007). There is no need to ask the child to speak up 'for the camera', since this will repeatedly draw attention to it.

94. Interviewers must be vigilant for signs of fatigue in the child, or the need for a refreshment or toilet break. If the child does wish to take a break, this should never be withheld or offered as a reward in an effort to extract or confirm information. Interviewers should not attempt to drive proceedings along or continue questioning a child who has become very distressed or restless. At the same time, interviewers should not be hasty in providing breaks when the topic turns to something difficult or embarrassing.

95. If the child leaves the room for a refreshment or toilet break the lead interviewer must state for the recording what is happening. The note of salient points made by the second interviewer should include times and reasons for breaks, how long they lasted, what the child was doing during the break, who they spoke to, what was said, and so on.

96. Taking into account all the factors above emphasises the need for flexibility to meet the individual circumstances as presented in each case.

Interview principles

97. While the interviewer must make clear to the child the underlying principles of the interview, there is substantial information in research and literature to indicate that "ground rules" are most effective when dispersed across the interview at salient/relevant junctures, rather than listed as a 'litany' at the outset. There are strong suggestions that the litany approach is, in fact, counter-productive and unnecessary (see Berliner and Conte, 1995; Saywitz and Faller, 2006). This information should be regarded as "things a child might need to know about the interview" rather than as 'ground-rules' and be proffered in this manner.

98. It is recommended that interviewers do not just ask whether the child understands the information but check by giving examples. Interviewers should also use language appropriate to the age/ability of the child.

99. Appropriate principles which should be communicated to the child are:

  • The interviewer is there mainly to listen. This is the child's chance to do most of the talking.
  • The interviewer needs the child's help to understand what (if anything) has happened.
  • Even if the child thinks the interviewer already knows something, they should still tell them anyway.
  • If the interviewer asks a question that the child does not know or remember the answer to, it's OK for the child to say "I don't know/remember".
  • If the interviewer asks a question that the child finds too difficult or unclear, the child should let the interviewer know so they can say it in a different way.
  • The child should not try to guess the answers. They should only talk about true things, things that really happened.
  • If the interviewer makes a mistake, or says something that is not true, it is okay for the child to correct the interviewer.
  • Sometimes the interviewer will ask the child the same question again. This does not mean that the child gave the wrong answer the first time, it is just to help the interviewer remember what has been said. The child should always tell the truth.

Telling the truth

100. Section 24 of the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004 abolished the competence test in respect of all witnesses, removing the court's requirement to ask questions of child or vulnerable adult witnesses designed to establish that they had a sufficient understanding of the truth, understood the duty to tell the truth and had the ability to give coherent testimony. However, Chapter 11 of the Vulnerable Witnesses Guidance Pack (Scottish Executive, 2006), on Stand Alone Provisions acknowledges the role of investigative interviewers in clarifying the child's level of understanding:

"While the Act prohibits the use of the competence test in criminal and civil court proceedings, this may raise the question for practitioners about its application to other stages of proceedings, in particular the investigative interview. It is no longer expected that a child or vulnerable adult (for example an adult with learning disability) needs to demonstrate their understanding of the need to tell the truth or the difference between telling the truth and telling a l ie. However, the court will still have to make a judgement of the witness's truthfulness and reliability, therefore any interview should still clarify, in age appropriate ways, the witness's level of understanding. This exploration will assist the court in determining issues of credibility and reliability." (Scottish Executive, 2006: Chapter 11, p3)

101. The child does not have to take the oath for an investigative interview but it is advisable to make them aware at the outset of the importance of giving their own, true account. By 'true account', that is saying what actually happened. Interviewers should not ask for definitions of what is a truth or a lie as this is a difficult task. Instead, the interviewer should emphasise that they want to know what the child actually saw. It is important that throughout the interview, interviewers note their assessment of the abilities of the child in how they perceive and communicate any distinctions between events that have actually happened and those that are pretended.

EXAMPLE

"I want you to tell me what really happened, even if you said something different to somebody else at some other time"

  • Tell me what you saw
  • Tell me what you heard
  • Tell me what happened

102. Where there is sufficient doubt over the level of understanding of a witness the interviewers should take steps to ensure that questions are put to the child in a way that they can understand.

Rapport; establishing a 'child-centred' interview

103. The rapport phase is an excellent opportunity for the interviewer to gain a better understanding of the child's communication skills and current stage of cognitive, social and emotional development.

104. From the rapport building, the interviewer can also learn more about the child's use and understanding of vocabulary and adjust their own accordingly. The interviewer should also encourage the child to give an open-ended account (and detailed description). They should avoid questions that will prompt brief one-word answers as much as possible, to set the form of the substantive phase of the interview.

105. Even in cases where the child is already familiar with the interviewer(s) through previous contact, time should be taken for fresh rapport building before commencing the interview. How long is spent on this phase is up to the discretion and experience of the interviewers.

106. The rapport phase should, of course, be recorded along with the rest of the interview. This can easily be done if the interview is visually recorded. Until this is widely introduced, practitioners should record the broad areas discussed in rapport building. But they should take a verbatim record if the child alludes to anything (which may be) of material or evidential relevance to the matter of concern during any "neutral" discussions).

Undertaking a practice interview

107. Many JII interviewers find it helpful to use a 'practice interview' as a precursor to the investigative interview itself. A practice interview is recommended as good practice (Sternberg et al (1997), Brubacher, Roberts & Powell (2011) as it has a number of distinct advantages, the most important of which are:-

  • To allow the interviewer to help the child to become accustomed to the interviewing situation and techniques. This involves the interviewer regularly using 'invitations' or 'prompts' such as "tell me about…" or "tell me more about that". These 'prompts' ought to feature regularly throughout the interview itself since they are the most effective way of eliciting detail and free narratives from children. The use of such 'prompts' throughout the interview should be a central practice technique in effective interviewing of children.
  • To enable the interviewer to "rehearse" the consistent use of 'prompts'. This allows the interviewer to become more familiar in their use and more comfortable in this interviewing technique before entering into the interview itself (in respect of the topic(s) of concern).
  • To allow the interviewer to gather ancillary information about the child's communication abilities/recall/non-verbal communication and to promote a level of reassurance and composure.

108. It should be noted that a practice interview may not always be appropriate e.g. where it is clear that the child wants to talk about the topic of concern right away. This will always be a matter for professional judgment. However, in reaching a decision interviewers must ensure that they always act in the best interests of the child.

A PRACTICE INTERVIEW

A practice interview should normally follow on from Rapport Building with a child. The practice interview should include the following:-

  • Ask child to identify a favourite topic or event, e.g. television programme (this should be a 'neutral' event or topic not directly related to the suspected topic of concern);
  • Use open-ended questions to get details: Who, What, Where, When, How
  • Use open-ended prompts to encourage the child to keep talking: e.g., "Tell me more about"

Raising topic of concern

109. Once the practice interview is complete, the interviewer should then make efforts to raise the 'topic of concern' with the child, remembering to use open-ended prompts (as used in the practice interview), as a key technique throughout the rest of the interview. This should be done in a way that encourages the child spontaneously to come up with information, and is free from suggestive influence. In the rapport phase, the 'entry' into the topic of concern is often created or touched upon. This can be used as a direct device into establishing the topic of concern. So, for example, a good opener would be;

EXAMPLE

"Now, it's time to talk about something else, Do you know why you are here today?...tell me about that?"

110. A bad opener would be,

"I hear you've been having problems with Uncle Johnny, is that right?"

111. Not all children will be able or willing to respond with relevant information to general prompts (especially when the initial allegation has come from a source other than the child, or where the child has additional support needs), so interviewers may have to progress to more specific ones.

Free narrative

112. The free narrative phase is the most reliable source of accurate and untainted information provided the child has not been subject to interviewer bias in earlier interviews, and has not been coached. A free narrative is the child's own uninterrupted account of what has taken place. Professionals will know from the literature and from experience that, due to their developmental stage, younger children may be less likely to provide spontaneously information than older children and adults. Interviewers should always provide children, of all ages, with sufficient opportunity to describe their version of events, in their own words.

113. There are several ways of obtaining this free narrative. For example, when the child mentions the topic of concern, the interviewer can simply ask, "Tell me about that".

114. Interviewers should resist 'jumping in' to clarify any comments or follow up evidentially relevant statements with focused questions during this phase of the interview. Instead, interviewers should adopt the position of an active listener - that is, let the child know that the interviewer hears what the child is saying and is taking it seriously.

115. If the child begins to falter, the interviewer should be patient and allow for pauses. If it is clear that the child has finished, the interviewer can use a number of strategies, including facilitative prompts.

FACILITATIVE PROMPTS

  • A neutral acknowledgement ("uh huh")
  • Repeat back the child's last comment (Child: "And then we went into the bedroom …" (Pause) Interviewer: "I see, so you went into the bedroom …")
  • "Tell me more"
  • "Then what?"

116. If the child is pained to speak about the topic then reassure them ("It's alright. Take your time, I'm listening" or "Is there something that would make you more comfortable today?"). Interviewers can be sympathetic but not too personal - avoid using terms of endearment ( e.g. "dear", "sweetheart") and initiating physical contact ( e.g. leaning over and hugging a child).

117. All personnel present at the interview should ensure that verbal reinforcement is given sporadically and is not contingent on a given response. Never offer the child anything that could be regarded as a form of bribe or inducement ( e.g. "If you just tell me what he did you can go home"). Do not indicate satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the information the child is giving. The interviewer should maintain neutrality in facial expression and body language, as well as verbally. The child should not be given the impression that the interviewer is keen to receive information of any particular nature or that a particular statement is welcome or unwelcome. Care should be taken to ensure that the interviewer does not introduce something that the child has not said or lead the child to associate the response of the interviewer with the making of disclosure.

118. If the child has not given any information regarding the incident being investigated, either spontaneously or after prompting (using the recommended prompts and facilitators), interviewers should jointly consider whether to continue the interview further. Decisions made at the planning phase should be referred back to. The child may not be ready to speak yet, but it may also be the case that the incident did not take place or that the child did not witness everything anticipated. If, in the light of information obtained (or not) during the interview and the strength of the original referral, the interviewers decide it is in the best interests of the child and justice to terminate the interview here, they should then proceed to the Closure Phase.

Prompts

119. Even when the child has provided a fairly substantial account of the event(s) from free narrative, it is likely to be necessary to expand what has been said so far with further detail, or to clarify ambiguities. These prompts should ideally be built around what the child has said in the free narrative.

Open-ended prompts

120. Open-ended prompts are phrased in such a way that they invite a more detailed response and do not lead or pressurise the child into giving a particular answer. Research shows this form of question can yield up to 3-4 times longer responses from children.

EXAMPLE

"You said earlier that you and this man played a game. Please tell me everything you can remember about that".

121. Not only do open-ended prompts result in more detailed responses, the evidence obtained in this way is least likely to be challenged in court. The other advantage of open-ended prompts is that they serve to give children control over what they want to divulge.

BENEFITS OF OPEN-ENDED PROMPTS

  • Responses to open-ended prompts are more accurate than responses to specific questions. This is assuming the child has not previously been subjected to multiple interviews involving persistent and erroneous suggestions.
  • Open-ended prompts avoid putting the child in a position where they may try to answer a specific question even when they do not have the details requested.
  • Open-ended prompts also avoid the possibility of a yes/no answer. A child who does not understand a question can often try to provide a response even when they are unsure of what is being asked - repeating phrases used by an interviewer, giving a stereotypical answer, providing a yes answer because that is what they think the interviewer wants.
  • Specific questions do not allow the child to collect their thoughts; it takes time to search memory.

Questioning

Style of questions

122. There may be times during the interview when a question is more appropriate than an open-ended prompt (see paragraph 119-121). Questions can be posed in several ways and consideration should be given to both the style and content of questions. Interviewers should always aim to phrase questions in a way that will produce the most detailed response, and is least likely to influence the child's answer in a particular direction.

123. The three main types of question are:

  • Specific
  • Closed
  • Leading

124. This can be seen as a hierarchy of interview questions, from most preferable down to least preferable, and interviewers should always strive to return to free narrative (or open-ended prompts) as much as possible throughout the interview.

Specific Questions

125. Specific questions probe for clarification or a fuller and more detailed account of the event(s) the child has previously mentioned.

EXAMPLE

"Where were you when you played this game?"

126. If a child's initial response to a specific question is deemed incomplete, interviewers can pose the question again but in a different form. Persistently repeating a question is not advisable as the child may come to believe their first answer was wrong, and consequently alter their response to something they think the interviewer wants to hear. Where a child has provided information as a response to a Specific Question it is advisable to follow this up with an open-ended prompt ("You said this happened in the bedroom ... tell me as much as you can about the bedroom ...").

127. It may become clear that there were multiple incidents of alleged abuse or matters of concern (these episodes are most likely to stand out in the child's mind as distinct events). It might be helpful once the incident is described, to give it a unique label that the child understands and associates with. This can be used as a reference point for accessing memories of other (subsequent/prior) incidents. Interviewers should note that this technique might not be so beneficial with children who have a learning disability and whose understanding of temporal terms such as 'the first time', 'the last time' is often limited.

EXAMPLES

Did that happen one time or more than one time?

Tell me everything about the last time [first time/time in [location]/the time you[some specified activity] something happened.

Closed Questions

128. Closed questions provide the child with only a limited number of response options, usually "yes", "no" or "don't know". When used inappropriately, such questions tend to yield less accurate information. This is particularly so when there are sequences of closed questions asked in succession since this might be construed by the child (and others) as interrogative.

EXAMPLE

"Was anyone else in the house when this happened?"

129. Children are less likely to say "I don't know" to a closed question and more likely to guess or be misled by the interviewer. Thus, interviewers must take care if using closed questions and should always remember to follow immediately with open-ended prompts for a spontaneous provision of information.

Leading Questions

130. A leading question is one which is presented in such a way that it suggests a certain answer to the child or one which makes assumptions about facts yet to be confirmed.

EXAMPLE

"So then he touched you, didn't he?"

131. Whether a question is construed as leading or not depends on a number of factors: e.g. the nature of the question; whether the child has already mentioned, for the above example, any physical contact or not; the tone of the interviewer's voice when asking the question; and so on. Generally, leading questions on a particular point should only be asked at a point where interviewers have approached the matter by asking open-ended prompts, specific or closed questions but require to probe the issue further. By exhausting other means of approaching the issue first, it should be possible to view and assess the answers to the leading questions. It is important to ensure that any questioning which is ultimately assessed to have affected the child's evidence on the point is minimal, isolated and comes at a point when it does not risk affecting the whole of the child's evidence and any questions which might follow the leading question. (see also paragraph 143 about evidence gaps which may need to be probed)

132. It may be more useful to draw a distinction, and create two categories: 'leading' and ' misleading' questions. The former can lead a child to give a correct response whereas the latter leads a child to give an incorrect response. To return to the above example, if the child had actually been touched then an affirmative response would be a true response. However, if no physical contact had taken place yet the child gave an affirmative response, the nature of questioning could be directed away from true events. Note the previous reference to confirmation bias ( paragraph 40). The danger of such questioning is that interviewers rarely know the answer, therefore cannot be sure whether they have asked a leading or misleading question.

133. A misleading question can also be based on an incorrect interpretation/reiteration of what the child has said. An example would be where a child mentions getting into a blue car with a stranger and the interviewer then asks, "Tell me more about this green car", to which the child responds with a fuller description. Such questioning might jeopardise the credibility of the child's statement. It is vital therefore that interviewers listen carefully to the child witness and that the second interviewer actively monitors the child's responses.

134. A leading question that is based on something a child said during a free narrative stage may be acceptable. A response to a leading question based on an interviewer's hunch is not to be trusted. Leading questions, if ever used during an interview, should be immediately followed with an open-ended prompt to get a free response. Out of the three main question types, leading questions are most likely to lead to answers that will be considered unreliable in court. Consequently, extreme care should be taken when using this type of question, especially where they relate to identification or a description of the act and are material to the case.

135. Interviewers should bear in mind the significant risk that answers to leading questions may be rejected in evidence. Added to that, the asking of a leading question may result in a later statement by the child being rejected as unreliable on the ground that the child has been influenced by the question itself. The result of leading questions may be that the child's later statements may be viewed as "contaminated" by the content of such questions.

Content of questions

136. Interviewers should aim to keep questions as unambiguous, simple and as short as possible.

TYPES OF QUESTIONS TO AVOID

  • Double negatives: "Don't you remember whether you said no or not?"
  • Multiple propositions: "Did you think that you would get into trouble if you didn't go along with it, or did you think that it was a cool thing to do, because you were told that all the other boys had done it?"
  • Very long questions
  • Questions containing legal jargon
  • Abstract or hypothetical questions: "Do you think this would still have happened if…?"

SOME (DEVELOPMENTALLY) TROUBLESOME CONCEPTS FOR CHILDREN, WITH POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

  • "Behind", "in front of", "beneath", "above": Might need to ask child to demonstrate what they mean
  • Dates and times: Can use memorable or routine events as reference markers such as birthday, school or television schedules (thus can pin-point the event to a particular month, week, day, or even time of day)
  • Estimates of length, height and weight: Can be specified relative to another object or person familiar to the child
  • Estimates of age: Again, can be specified relative to another person the child knows
  • Frequency of events: Young children may have trouble estimating frequency; specific examples may help
  • Use of "he", "she" and "they": Better to say their specific name(s)
  • "Anything": Better to say "all" or "everything"
  • When there is a change of topic: To reduce confusion or misunderstandings, signal change with a phrase such as "I'd now like to go on to talk about something else…
  • Passive voice: Better to use the active voice, e.g. "Person X hit Person Y" rather than "Person Y was hit by Person X"

137. If the interviewer feels that they have used a question that may be deemed inappropriate then the reasons for using the question should be noted. Where an inappropriate question is used in error, then the steps taken to mitigate the error should also be noted.

Seeking clarifications

138. Some of the child's own use of vocabulary may cause problems for the interviewer. Young children often over- and under- extend the meaning of words. That is, they may use the term "private parts" to encompass body parts other than the genitals which are also usually covered under clothing ( e.g. knees), or deny being touched but later admit to having been kissed as they consider touching to involve the hands.

139. Imprecise anatomical terms ( e.g. "front bottom") will need to be explained - for crimes such as rape, the interviewer will need to know exactly what parts of anatomy were involved. Moreover, if a child uses certain sexual terms during their statement, the interviewer cannot assume that the child fully understands them. The child might simply have overheard adults using them or come across them in magazines, without ever finding out their true meaning. Where there is ambiguity, the interviewer should ask gently for clarification.

140. Children should never be asked to use their own or the interviewer's body to demonstrate an action or body part to clarify something they said. However, children may spontaneously point to their body. The interviewer should also identify the child's preferred name for the body part and repeat it back to them for clarification purposes. It is also beneficial to ask the child for the proper or other names of the relevant body part. The use of anatomically-correct dolls or pre-formatted diagrams should be used with caution and preferably after suitable training (see paragraphs 145-148).

141. Clarification is also important when a child's statement contains fantastical or bizarre elements, e.g. the mention of "glue" during a sexual act. Interviewers should ask, "Where did the glue come from?" Seemingly bizarre elements may turn out to be quite rational, e.g. "glue" meaning semen.

142. It should be highlighted that children sometimes reveal new and different information across statements and interviewers. It is important to bear in mind that differences are not necessarily inaccuracies. It is also possible that a child makes genuine mistakes, or cannot recall case-relevant information, because of memory loss or recall failure. However, on occasion, children may also be motivated to fabricate or exaggerate their accounts. In addition, what a child has said may be inconsistent with or omit other information already gathered in the course of an investigation for example, from other witnesses.

143. If there are significant and unexplained evidential inconsistencies, these should be probed during the interview. Dealing with inconsistencies at the time is more effective and does not need to imply that the child was deliberately misleading. It could be a result of poor or confused interview technique or, indeed, a signifier of more serious circumstances that the child is struggling to reveal. Interviewers must take care not to assume or imply that the child is lying. Assessing the appropriate questioning approach requires a delicate balance to be struck. If necessary, interviewers should be prepared to break the interview to discuss the appropriate approach. Such issues should be identified at the earliest possible stage and ideally at the planning stage. Interviewers should agree a strategy for approaching issues which are likely to result in inconsistencies arising in the course of interviews. Any inconsistencies should be probed after the child has finished their free narrative or at the end of the interview as appropriate.

144. Similarly, if gaps in evidence are to be probed ( e.g. significant information already known from the investigation has been omitted from the child's account) then this should only be done with consideration, and after the child has finished their free narrative. All such probing questions, particularly when concerning evidential inconsistencies, should be asked in a tactful and non-confrontational manner, bearing in mind that the child may be susceptible to suggestion or acquiescence. If leading questions are required then this may be of limited evidential value unless a more detailed response can be elicited through a follow-on open-ended prompt.

Props

145. Research raises concerns about the reliability of evidence gathered with the use of anatomically-correct dolls or pre-formatted diagrams during investigative interviews with children, especially very young children. Research ( e.g. Bruck et al., 1995; Stewart & Stewart, 1996) shows dolls and toys used in this way may increase inaccuracies especially in younger children. The use of anatomically-correct dolls or pre-formatted diagrams should be used with caution and preferably after suitable training (see paragraph 140). In the main, anatomically accurate dolls should only be used as an adjunct to the interview to allow the child to demonstrate the meaning of terms used by them or to clarify verbal statements.

146. Props should never be used in conjunction with leading questions nor should their use be instigated by the interviewer. Interviewers should always be clear and explicit about why particular props or drawing were introduced or used and the reasons for doing so at particular junctures in the interview. This should always be explicitly considered in the planning of an interview and, where such props or drawing have been used or made, the reasons recorded by the interviewers in their records following the interview.

147. It is acceptable for children to hold on to items that they themselves have brought along to the interview as comforters, e.g. 'safety' blanket. This also includes dolls or stuffed animals but interviewers should not use these as props nor try to interpret the child's behaviour with the toy in the context of their evidence.

148. Along with all props, any drawings made during, or brought along to, the interview should be recorded in the interviewer's notes and shown to the camera at the end. Particular reference should be made to when and how the prop/drawing was introduced and how it was used. At the end of the interview, any drawings should be signed and dated on the reverse side by both interviewers and retained by the police as productions.

Closure

149. It is essential to end every interview properly with a closure phase, even if an interview has had to be terminated prematurely or no disclosure has been made. The following features should be included:

CLOSURE

  • The lead interviewer should summarise (using the child's language as much as possible) the important evidential points in the child's statement, confirming that those aspects have been understood correctly.
  • The lead interviewer should check with the second interviewer whether any additional questions or clarifications are required.
  • The child should be asked if they have any questions they want answered, or something else which they wish to add.
  • The child should be informed of what, if anything, will happen next. Explanations should be honest and realistic but appropriate for the child's age and level of understanding. Commonly asked questions include "Will [the alleged offender] go to prison?" Interviewers should be prepared to answer such questions but should avoid making promises that cannot be kept.
  • The child and/or their guardian should be provided with a contact name and number plus advice on where they can seek help. This should include a contact from the police or social work but some children and/or their families may also need further support from voluntary agencies or professional counsellors or therapists (see paragraph 13 on guidance for therapeutic support).
  • Interviewers should thank the child for their time and effort - but take care not to thank the child for the information given - and show that they have taken the child's account seriously.
  • Interviewers should inform the child of the possibility of further interviews.
  • Finally, children should be given time to compose themselves. The main aim of closure is that the child leaves the interview in a positive frame of mind, not distressed. Neutral topics, such as those covered in the rapport phase, can be discussed in order to help achieve this state

150. No child should ever be made to feel that they have failed or disappointed the interviewers if they do not impart any details of apparent evidential value during the interview.

Action immediately afterwards: Creating the recording log

151. At this stage consent forms can be signed by the parent or carer if the child is aged under 12 (and the child's views obtained) or by the child if aged 12 or over.

152. A note of salient points or 'guide' to the full recording should be agreed by the two interviewers immediately afterwards. Any drawings made should also be preserved.

153. The recording should be assigned a unique number from a 'recording log', to be kept by a responsible officer and used to track the location of recordings at all times, and to safeguard them.

154. Further guidance about handling and storing recordings is at paragraphs 205-212, Appendix F and Appendix G.

Debriefing and further interviews

155. Once the interview has been completed, a debriefing session should be arranged between the interviewers and the nominated senior social worker and/or police supervisor overseeing the investigation. The debriefing session is an important part of the process of joint planning and management of child protection enquiries. The findings from the interview and any further action can be discussed and decided upon. This may include the need for another interview and/or arrangements for a medical examination. The debriefing session can also provide an opportunity to identify operational and practice issues that require to be addressed externally to the enquiry ( e.g. training needs, procedural gaps, Trauma Risk Management). A record of the debriefing session and all decisions made should be taken, and copies kept by both agencies. Appendix B provides an overview on the role of supervisors and managers in briefing and debriefing practitioners.

156. The complete visual recording provides an ideal opportunity for interviewers to assess their performance. This will not always be possible at the debriefing session, but it may be decided at this session that the interview should be reviewed later, if consent has been or can be obtained.

157. Although the joint approach aims to reduce the number of times a child is interviewed, there are a number of reasons why further interviews may be necessary. These are when:

  • a child who did not give information for whatever reason in the initial interview is now willing and able to provide information
  • new information comes to light from sources other than the child
  • new allegations emerge (and therefore, wider implications) in the course of the initial interview, and extra time is needed to investigate them fully
  • the child and interviewers have not built up a good rapport
  • the interviewer has not yet gained the child's trust
  • the child is currently too distressed to talk
  • it becomes apparent during the interview that the child may have additional support needs requiring specialist input.

158. When such circumstances arise, the different agencies should decide whether conducting another interview would be in the best interests of the child.

159. Interviewers and those overseeing enquiries should always consider carefully whether further interviews are necessary and appropriate. The guidance set out here should be followed each time a JII is conducted.