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Children in Court: Taking Testimony from Children

Children in Court: Taking Testimony from Children

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Children in Court: Taking Testimony from Children

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  1. Children in Court: Taking Testimony from Children Tennessee Joint Task Force on Children’s Justice/ Child Sexual Abuse Presented by Anne Fisher

  2. Agenda • Developmental Expectations – • What is the best case scenario? • Qualifying Children to Take the Oath • A Structured Conversation with a Child • Building Rapport • Getting to the Topic of Concern • Problem Areas in Questioning • Understanding Children’s Language

  3. Developmental Expectations

  4. Generally Speaking … • Typically-developed children under 12 • Preschoolers, Adolescents, Children with Special Needs are considered special populations • Cultural Differences • Placement/moves in foster care  regression • Sustained abuse/neglect  development 1-1 ½ years below average

  5. Guidelines for Age-Appropriate Questions

  6. Notes about Developmental Guidelines • Represent average, general abilities • Stress affects children’s cognitive/ linguistic performance • Trauma interferes with memory • Reluctance to discuss abuse is common • New research about time: 10-12 important developmentally

  7. Qualifying Children to Take the Oath

  8. Qualifying Children to Take the Oath • Despite seriously delayed vocabulary skills, most maltreated children by 5 have a basic understanding of the meaning and morality of lying … depending on how that is assessed • Often, children who canidentify truths/lies cannot provide minimally sufficient definitions of “truth”/“lies” • Young children may be reluctant to discuss lying Lyon & Saywitz, 1999, “Young Maltreated Children’s Competence to Take the Oath,” Applied Developmental Science, 3, 1, 16-27

  9. Qualifying: Two Tasks • Truth vs. Lie Evaluate whether child understands that “truth” and “lie” refer to statements that correspond to reality and statements that fail to correspond to reality • Morality Determines whether a child understands the consequences of telling a lie

  10. Instructions • Give the child the 4 truth vs. lie tasks • Emphasize words in capital letters • When child answers, say “okay” in a friendly manner • Always start with the child on left side of the picture • Give the child 4 morality tasks • Ask the child to promise to tell the truth • “I talk with lots of children. It’s always important that they tell me the truth. So, before we begin, I want to make sure that you understand how important it is to tell the truth.”

  11. Truth vs. LieTask • Changes from ♀ to ♂ • Changes question from “truth” to “lie” • Changes which side is correct answer

  12. Morality Task “Here’s a lady who comes to visit these girls at home.” “Here’s a doctor. She wants to know what happened to these boys.”

  13. Structured Conversation with a Child

  14. Setting • When possible – reduce the power differential • In chambers? • Comfortable/appropriately-sized furniture • Let the child choose seat • Lose the robe? • Sit at the same level as the child • Have child-friendly area/ furnishings, décor/materials

  15. Building Rapport • Purposes • Put child at ease • Generate flow of conversation • Help child understand your expectations • Help you understand child’s conversational abilities in this setting • In forensic interview … 7-9 minutes (average)

  16. Building Rapport:Looking for the “Spark” • Introduce yourself as simply as you can • Ask open-ended questions • I’d like to get to know you; tell me about yourself. • What do you like to do? • Tell me about school. • For very small children, small subjects work • Did you have breakfast? Tell me about it • Tell me everything you did today before you got here. • Tell me all about your room/favorite toy/pet

  17. Useful Statements in Child Interviews • “Tell me everything you remember …” • “I wasn’t there, so I need you to tell me what happened.” • Kids think that if they told one adult, other adults know • “Even if you think I know, tell me anyway.” • “Even if you think it doesn’t matter …”

  18. Useful Statements in Child Interviews • “It’s okay to tell me that you don’t know.” • One of the first conversational rules that children learn: you take turns in conversation, and every question has an answer • “It’s okay to tell me that you don’t understand.” • Strategy for understanding unknown words: look for something familiar from experience/education • Scarpology • “It’s okay to correct me if I make a mistake.”

  19. Shifting to Topic of Concern • Use the “hourglass” method • Open-ended questions/prompts: “Tell me about your Mom.” • When the narrative is exhausted  focused questions: “What happens when Mom gets mad?” • Return to open-ended prompts: “Tell me all about that.” • Focus on concrete, observable elements and details • Using marijuana • Ensure that you share vocabulary • “Sex”? What happened to her/his body?

  20. Talking about the Issue (s) • Use reflective statements to “check-in” • Establish at beginning that they should correct you if you make a mistake • Ask 1 question at a time, allow time to formulate an answer • Count to 8-10 before rephrasing • Signal when you are shifting to a different topic or time • Frame the question first (“I’d like to ask you about …”) • Use the child’s name often

  21. Problem Areas in Questioning • Estimates of measurement – size, speed, distance, height, weight, length – before 10 • Estimates of time • Negative stereotypes • Never ask the child to guess • Repeated Questions • Presumptive Questions • Leading/Misleading Questions

  22. UnderstandingChildren’s Language

  23. Requirements for Answering Questions • Must be able to remember the question from beginning to end • Must be able to pay attention to the question • Can’t give an accurate answer if you don’t understand the question • Response to a question is not necessarily an answer – Follow up!

  24. Kids and Language • Adults and children do not speak the same language • Kids are egocentric  restricted ability to reason & compare • Language and cognition develop at different rates • Words come first, meaning comes later. • Children have concrete interpretation of language based on sound, experience  create language based on analogy to familiar words • e.g., a baby caterpillar is a “kittenpillar”

  25. Young Children and Language • Struggle with higher order or umbrella words • “Clothes” may not include pajamas, bathing suits • Tend to believe that adults know what they know • Believe adults are right, sincere, wouldn’t trick them • Cannot make “source attribution” • Focus on sensory information

  26. Using Clear Language • Add an open-ended option to forced-choice questions • “Was it at your Mom’s house, your Dad’s house, or somewhere else?” • Do not assume that a child knows the meaning of a word he/she uses OR that you mean the same thing • “He tickled me.” • Use names of places (geographic or anatomical) – “the house on Main Street,” “your peter” – instead of vague referents – “over there,” “down there” • Avoid relationship words • Use names instead of (or paired with) “your stepfather,” “your foster mother,” or “your real mom”

  27. Using Clear Language • Avoid quantifiers like “a couple,” “several,” “most” • Avoid asking “why” (because it can sound accusatory) • Avoid beginning questions with “Do you remember …” or “Can you…” • “Before” and “After” are slippery before age 7/8 • Negation takes longer to process. • Use of simple negatives (not/no) in a question appears to increase the chance of an incorrect answer by AT LEAST 50% in children age 4-10 (Graffam-Walker)

  28. “Some” Vs. “Any” • “I ate ice cream.” • “I didn’t eat ice cream.” • Did he say something? Did he say anything? (Is this the same question?) • “Some” patterns with neutral or positive response, “Any” patterns very strongly with negative – 2x more likely to get negative response with “any” than “some.”

  29. Avoiding Problems w/ Pronouns, Pointing Words • When YOU speak • Be specific • Put nouns back in • Indexicals (words that point – personal pronouns, here/there, this/that, come/go, bring/take) • Incorporate phrases from earlier questions and/or statements • When the CHILD speaks • Don’t take meaning of pronouns for granted • Be alert if responses seem inconsistent, confused

  30. References • Graffam Walker, 1999, Handbook on Questioning Children: A Linguistic Perspective (ABA Center for Children and the Law). • Lyon & Saywitz, 1999, “Young Maltreated Children’s Competence to Take the Oath,” Applied Developmental Science, 3, 1, 16-27 • Friedman & Lyon, 2005, “Development of Temporal-Reconstructive Abilities,” Child Development, 76, 6 • Orbach & Lamb, 2007, “Young Children’s References to Temporal Attributes of Allegedly Experienced Events in the Course of Forensic Interviews,” Child Development, 78, 4

  31. Contact Information Anne Fisher Forensic Interviewer Montgomery County Child Advocacy Center 227 A Dunbar Cave Road Clarksville, TN 37043 (931) 553-5140