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Cultural Considerations in the Child Investigative Interview (Workshop 128)
Law enforcement and child protection agencies must interview children about their experiences when there are concerns of physical or sexual abuse, neglect, or family violence. These interviews should be conducted in a manner that will optimize the opportunity for the child to describe what has happened, while minimizing misinformation concerning the nature and validity of the alleged abuse.
Child interview specialists are under tremendous pressure to question children in a manner that is legally defensible and facilitates the overall investigation. The interview itself must provide a clear description of abuse events that is connected to dates, locations, time duration, and abstract concepts such as degree of force, coercion, and intent. In response to this investigative mandate, protocols for structuring this unique conversation have emerged, and guidelines for effectively implementing them have been developed by a number of training schools. Consensus exists about the goal of eliciting as much detailed information as possible from a child about topics of concern, using non-leading questions/probes and given the child's age and abilities. However, consensus has not been achieved among schools regarding specific interviewing techniques and their implementation.
This investigative mandate presents daunting challenges for the interviewer, since children are not raised to be witnesses and their perceptions and memories are limited by age, cognitive ability, environmental influences, and trauma. When child interview specialists must question children from different cultural backgrounds than those of the interviewer, the challenge is even greater. Immigration status, dual language, and family beliefs complicate this conversation and contribute to cultural misunderstandings on both sides.
For example, interviewers may underestimate the impact of learning English as a second language if they assume secondary language acquisition is merely overlaying one language on another. Language shapes one's world view, conversational goals, and even perceptions and stored memories of everyday experiences. Cultures vary in their reliance on verbal and non-verbal signals, as well as the importance of shared knowledge in the construction of meaning. Time, space, and the sense of an individual "self" are concepts that are understood and discussed differently. Rules regarding loyalty, justice, authority, roles, proper behavior, survival strategies, and communication are learned and employed at a deep level. Thus, interviewers should not require children to adapt to the needs of their own conversational habits and should take into account the impact of the child's original language on their disclosure. This session identifies and discusses critical cultural issues to be considered in the development of interviewing protocols and the training of effective interviewers.
Linda Cordisco Steele, M.Ed., L.P.C.
National Children's Advocacy Center
210 Pratt Avenue NE
Huntsville, AL 35801
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