You’ve asked and we’ve answered. Pauline Lucero-Esquivel has provided a response to your questions on interviewing children with disabilities.
Please join us next month for the second webinar in this series. Pauline will discuss the phases of interviewing and provide considerations for working with children with disabilities during each phase. To register for this event, please visit the Distance Learning Center.
When conducting an interview for research purposes, how do you ensure assent/consent from children with disabilities?
There are guidelines that trained professionals use to evaluate consent from children with disabilities. Refer to the guidelines for your profession (e.g., APA Ethics Guidelines.(back to top)
Pauline suggested that interviewers limit follow-up questions when conducting the interview. In what particular circumstance should follow-up questions be limited?
If a pre-interview assessment has been completed and it is clear that the child does not have the capacity to give additional details, it is best to limit the follow-up questions. The Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) team may agree that it is important to demonstrate that the child is unable to answer follow-up questions during the recorded interview. This can be done in the rapport building phase with non-abuse topics, and again when discussing the abuse details after an initial disclosure. Once this has been established, it is best not to continue to ask follow- up questions that cannot be answered.
As an example, a child with a disability may have a cognitive functioning level of a pre-schooler. We know that preschoolers are generally able to tell an interviewer who the offender is, what they did and the place/room the offense occurred. They are also more likely to show on their body where they were touched. These interviews are generally shorter due to the child’s attention span and their inability to give the kind of details older children can provide. It is important to understand that there are so many types of disabilities and levels of severity that it is impossible to generalize about how the chronological age of the child can be factored into the line of questioning.(back to top)
How can an interviewer modify forensic interview protocols for the disability and still maintain the integrity of the interview?
This can be done by understanding the type of disability the child has and what their abilities and limitations are with regard to relating an experience. As interviewers, we use a developmental framework with all children we interview. This developmental structure requires additional communication with the adults that are familiar with the child’s disability. Prior to the interview, with the guardian’s consent, a MDT member can speak with the special education teacher or other professionals that work closely with the child, and find out the types of questions the child is capable of answering. Other professionals include speech and language therapists, physical therapists, nurses, or case managers. Questions can also involve concepts such as time frames, colors, inside/outside, on top/under, etc. These questions can be asked without giving any details about the alleged abuse.
If a child has a significant speech or communication disorder, it may be necessary to have a support person in the room that understands the child’s speech and can interpret for the interviewer and the team. There must be a clear agreement about the role of the professional in the interview.
Each jurisdiction and MDT has protocols they follow at every stage of an investigation. I encourage communities to include protocols that are specific to children with disabilities and make the appropriate accommodations that do not compromise the integrity of the interview.(back to top)
Do courts question the credibility of children with disabilities to disclose and make accurate statements or accounts of abuse? What are the best practices for interviewing children in time constraints through the criminal investigation process? For example: only having a 4 or 5 day prosecutorial window?
Children with disabilities are questioned about their credibility and level of suggestibility in a similar way that children without disabilities are questioned. I suggest the prosecutor find research articles that can support this assertion. The National Children’s Advocacy Center (NCAC) has an online research library called CALIO (http://www.nationalcac.org/calio-library/about-the-ncac-child-abuse-reseach-library-calio.html) that is an excellent resource. CALIO librarians are also extremely helpful in identifying these types of research articles.
I would encourage teams to have information and knowledge about research available prior to needing it for a case that has time constraints. Identifying experts in your community who are qualified to speak to this issue and establishing a professional relationship with them is also important. (back to top)
What are some specific recommendations for rapport building (for example, in a situation where forensic evidence must be collected in a specified amount of time?
It can be helpful to determine, to the best of your ability, if the child would benefit from more than one interview. A visit to the interviewing site prior to the interview can familiarize the child with the location, and help maximize their comfort level at the time of the interview. Alternatively, the interviewer could visit the child at their school or home to do an initial introduction. This prepares the child for the upcoming interview by allowing them to become comfortable in the interviewing space.
I encourage the appropriate support persons to prepare children with disabilities prior to the interview (as should be done with all children), so they have a clear idea about what to expect. This pre-interview preparation will allow the interviewer to begin the rapport building process, which in turn can make better use of the actual interviewing time.(back to top)
What is the best way to distinguish between the true level of intellectual disability and manipulation?
Most of what interviewers do with victims and witnesses with disabilities is the same as the non-disabled population. Understanding the nature and severity of the child’s disability can give an interviewer a framework from which to do an interview. Many school age children who are in special education have been screened or tested by qualified diagnosticians. They have Individual Education Plan (IEPs), which outline their limitations and their areas of strength. If they have been screened for behavioral or emotional issues, documentation should also be available.
We all have the capacity to manipulate our environments to get our needs met. Manipulation, as used in this context, is likely referencing false allegations. Manipulation requires some level of intention and ability to understand cause and effect. The level of cognitive functioning and the age of the child will factor into how capable he or she can be of manipulating their environment and the individuals around them with regard to abuse allegations.(back to top)
How can an interviewer overcome suggestibility of disabled children?
Many of the strategies outlined in the presentation and the responses to the above questions address the issue of suggestibility when interviewing children with disabilities. To summarize, following a pre-interview protocol that allows the MDT team to best understand how the child functions and communicates will produce the most forensically sound interview. This requires a commitment on the part of the MDT to invest in the time necessary prior to an interview with a child, which gives the child the best opportunity to relate events that occurred.(back to top)
Responses provided by Pauline Lucero-Esquivel, MA, LMSW, LPCC.
Pauline Lucero-Esquivel, MA, LMSW, LPCC is a nationally-recognized trainer and consultant on cultural competency, trauma among adults and children, developmental disabilities, Spanish speaking forensic interviews and wellness. For over 20 years, Pauline has provided consultation to Native American communities, Children’s Advocacy Centers (CAC), and multi-disciplinary teams working on complex child abuse cases. Pauline served on a team that implemented the first CAC in Albuquerque in 1990 and has worked as a Behavior Support Consultant for clients with disabilities since 2002. She holds a B.A. in Spanish Literature from the University of Rochester and an M.A. in Counseling from the University of New Mexico.