Forensic Interviewing

The goal of the forensic interview is to use techniques to gather accurate and extensive memory recall about abuse while limiting the impact of trauma on the child or youth. Forensic interviews are the cornerstone of a child abuse investigation.

Many evidence-based interview models exist. There is no one interviewing model or technique that is considered to be ‘the best’. Common principles underlie each model.

Here are two examples of Forensic interviewing practice in Canadian Centres.

A Blended Model of Forensic Interviewing is practiced at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, Calgary, where interviews are conducted by law enforcement or specially trained forensic interviewers.

Dr. Sarah MacDonald with the SKCAC since 2017 provided the following information about their practice.

  • At the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre (SKCAC), interviews are conducted with children as young as 3 years old up to age 17. Special considerations are taken with preschoolers and interviewers are cognizant of their shorter attention span, language abilities, and developmental considerations.
  • All forensic interviews are audio/video recorded. This preserves the child/youth’s statement and documents the demeanor displayed in the interview. Recording of the interview reduces the number of times a child needs to tell their story.
  • Most forensic interviews at the SKCAC are conducted by Calgary Police Services and the RCMP. Many of the police officers have extensive experience and significant expertise in the area.
  • Sarah MacDonald, a Forensic Psychologist, upon request, conducts forensic interviews for Calgary Police, RCMP, and on occasion, for other police organizations in Southern Alberta. She is trained in the NICHD protocol, NCAC Advanced Forensic Interviewing and StepWise guidelines.
  • At SKCAC, two Children’s Services assessors provide forensic interview services as part of their role on the Joint Investigative Child Abuse Team (JICAT). Both have extensive interviewing experience. The addition of these new forensic interviewer roles, with Sarah’s position, has shifted the Centre’s approach towards a blended model of forensic interview practices (i.e., interviews are conducted by law enforcement or specially trained forensic interviewers). All forensic interviewers are required to participate in training prior to completing interviews with children
  • All forensic interviews, whether conducted by law enforcement or a forensic interviewer, are monitored by a police officer, typically the primary investigator on the file. This allows for the interviewer to take breaks to consult with law enforcement and to ensure all criminal elements are covered off.
  • Interviewers (law enforcement and forensic interviewers) at the SKCAC participate in an in-house peer review session every month. An interview is brought forward by a member who identifies a 15-20 minute section they have struggled with (e.g., perhaps the transition from introduction to the reason why the child is there). After that section is played for the group, all members have the chance to provide feedback and ideas. Peer review is essential for maintaining skills and is beneficial for all who attend.
  • Sarah notes that Joint training in forensic interview best practices facilitates inter-agency collaboration and fosters an understanding of each other’s roles in a child abuse investigation.

Best practice forensic interview training is established in the literature to be narrative based.

Forensic Interviewing at Snowflake Place, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Cheryl Martinez, Executive Director of Snowflake Place describes Forensic Interviewing at their Centre.

Specialist skills and training:

Two highly skilled and experienced forensic interviewers, core staff of Snowflake Place, conduct child victim and witness interviews.  They participate in multiple trainings and learning activities to enhance their knowledge and skills in best practice child forensic interviewing.  They have developed an internal process for peer review and self-review of transcripts and video recordings of interviews to further develop and strengthen their skills. They also participate in a structured peer review process with an external reviewer with expertise in child interviewing.

Collaborative process:

Police throughout Manitoba refer children to Snowflake Place for interviews.  Interviews are scheduled through a collaborative process with police, child and family services and victim services.  The forensic interviewer positions complement the investigative process through provision of neutral, unbiased and high quality child interviews that support the criminal proceedings for child abuse cases.  The specialization of the interviewers benefits the children and youth who receive their service and also police and child and family services workers who learn from observing their interviews.  The interviewers provide presentations to partner agencies on their role at Snowflake Place and best practices in child interviewing.  Cheryl reports a positive response from the crown prosecutors noting consistency in technique, style and quality of interviews.

In British Columbia, the Child & Youth Advocacy Centres Working Group is currently working on Best Practices in Forensic Interviewing.

Resources that can be utilized to build capacity and skills in forensic interviewing include:

  • Webinars provided by BOOST
  • Peer Review services provided by professionals
  • Conferences such as: San Diego International Conference, Crimes Against Children Conference (Dallas); The International Symposium on Child Abuse (Alabama), and the International Investigative Interviewing Research Group Conference (rotating location).
  • The CALIO Library hosted by the NCAC (https://calio.org/); A professional child maltreatment resource collection that provides access to published knowledge and educational materials.

Further Reading 

Brubacher, S., Roberts, K., Cooper, B., Price, H. Barry, L., Vanderloon, McKenzie. (2018). A Nationwide Survey of Child Interviewing Practices in Canada. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice Volume 60 Issue 1, January 2018, pp. 34-68. https://utpjournals.press/loi/cjccj

This study surveyed 200 professionals who interview children in Canada about the guidelines and techniques they use, their perceptions of their training and interviewing arrangements, and the needs and challenges they face in daily practice.

National Children’s Advocacy Center. (2016). Position paper on documenting forensic interviews. http://calio.org/images/position-paper-documenting-fi.pdf

Newlin, C., Steele, L.C, Chamberlin, A., Anderson, J., Kenniston, J., Russell, A., Vaughan-Eden, V. (2015). Child Forensic Interviewing: Best practices. In Juvenile justice bulletin (pp. 1-17). Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention website: https://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/248749.pdf

This bulletin consolidates the current knowledge of professionals from several major forensic interview training programs on best practices for interviewing children in cases of alleged abuse.