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Understanding and addressing challenges faced by forensic interviewers in their work with children

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posted on 2021-11-15, 17:06 authored by Wolfman, Missy

Questioning techniques in forensic interviews make a critical contribution to the amount and quality of children’s testimony (Lamb, La Rooy, Malloy, & Katz, 2011). Best practice recommendations advise that interviewers ask predominantly broad open-ended prompts (invitations and cued-invitations), minimise focused (direct) and closed-ended (option-posing) prompts, and avoid suggestive questions (Orbach & Pipe, 2011). Deviation from these recommendations is common, and deterioration in interviewing practice over time is typical unless interviewers received regular practice focused supervision and feedback (Lamb, Sternberg, Orbach, Esplin, & Mitchell, 2002). However, interviewers’ access to supervision is often limited (La Rooy, Lamb, & Memon, 2011). Guided self-review may be an effective method to complement traditional face-to-face supervision. This thesis examined: 1) forensic interviewing practice with children in New Zealand, 2) factors that influenced practice, 3) forensic interviewers’ perceptions of supervision, and 4) the effectiveness of a self-review tool designed to increase the use of invitations and cued-invitations.  The first study was divided into two parts (Study 1a and Study 1b). In Study 1a, we evaluated the extent to which forensic interviewers in New Zealand adhered to best-practice recommendations, and examined factors (child, interviewer, allegation characteristics) that influenced practice. We examined 93 interviews with children (6-16 years old) about sexual abuse allegations that were conducted by 27 interviewers. Interviewers utilised more direct (57%), and option-posing prompts (20%), and fewer invitations and cued-invitations (22% combined) than stipulated by best practice recommendations, although very few suggestive questions were posed. A number of child, interviewer and allegation characteristics influenced questioning techniques. In Study 1b, we examined whether limited use of invitations and cued-invitations (in a larger sample of 103 interviews) was associated with decreased responsiveness from children, and failure to follow recommended practice of using such questions following any direct or option-posing questions (termed pairing). Although invitations were more likely to elicit responses (83%) than non-responses (17%) from children, non-responding was more highly associated with this type of prompt than expected by chance. Furthermore, interviewers did not adhere to the pairing principle, even though this practice was positively associated with higher proportion of invitations and cued-invitations.  In the second study, we surveyed 39 forensic interviewers about their engagement in, and beliefs about supervision. Two-thirds of the interviewers indicated that they engage in practice-focused supervision. Out of these interviewers, over half (57.7%) received supervision regularly and were satisfied with the content of their supervision, and approximately half (53.9%) were satisfied with their supervision opportunities. Nonetheless, interviewers varied in terms of how satisfying they found their access to, and the content of supervision. Finally, a number of individual and organisational barriers (e.g., financial, time constraint and limited availability of supervisors) to accessing face-to-face supervision were identified.  In the final study, we explored the impact of a self-review tool specifically designed to increase invitations and cued-invitations and adherence to the pairing principle. This pilot study used an AB design (baseline vs. intervention) with six interviewers (n=54 interviews with 4-16 year old children for alleged physical or sexual abuse). Interviews conducted during the self-review phase had a significantly higher proportion of invitations, and a lower proportion of direct prompts, and higher adherence to the pairing principle than interviews at baseline.  Overall, our evaluation of forensic interviewing practice with children in New Zealand has highlighted areas of strengths as well as areas for improvement. In particular, consistent with international evaluations, an increase in the use of invitations and cued-invitations is recommended, and our results suggest that one way this may be achieved is by a greater focus in training and practice on the use of the pairing principle. Undoubtedly, forensic interviewing is a challenging task that requires highly specialised skills. Without regular supervision and feedback, it is difficult to maintain consistent and high standards of interviewing. Given the challenges that may limit forensic interviewers’ access to regular feedback and supervision, guided self-review may offer an accessible and low-cost complementary method to improve the conduct of forensic interviews with children. Better quality interviews increase the chance of investigations progressing when maltreatment has occurred, thereby protecting vulnerable children from further abuse, and innocent adults from the consequences of false allegations.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and the Cognitive sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Brown, Deirdre; Jose, Paul