Drawing, Play-Dough, and Koosh Balls: The Use of Comfort Tools with Children in Forensic and Clinical Interviews
During forensic and clinical interviews, children are often required to discuss difficult topics that may elicit feelings of shame, embarrassment, or reluctance. It is the clinician’s or forensic interviewer’s task to obtain detailed and accurate reports from these children, with many employing the use of comfort tools (e.g. drawing, play-dough, koosh balls) to put children at ease (Hill & Brown, 2017; Poole & Dickinson, 2014). The purpose of this study was to investigate whether three commonly used comfort tools influence children’s reports of a self-selected, emotionally laden event. Ninety-two children aged between 5 and 7 years old were asked to discuss a time when they got into trouble, and a time when they were happy. Some children were questioned without any comfort tools; the remainder were given one of the following: drawing materials, play-dough, or a koosh ball to interact with during the interview. Comfort tools had no impact on the amount of information reported by children. They also had no influence on whether children provided more episodic information (which may be especially relevant in forensic interviews), or evaluative information (which may be more relevant in clinical contexts). Providing comfort tools did not influence children’s ratings of either their interview experience, or the emotional intensity of the events they described. The interviewer asked more questions of children interviewed with drawing materials than those interviewed without comfort tools. The findings raise questions about the efficacy of comfort tools in interviews with children about past events, although more research is needed to establish an evidence-base to guide practitioners in different settings.