For Specialists

Techniques for clarifying details in interviewing a child

During the interview, when the child has difficulty verbally recounting situations or additional details are desired, it may be useful and appropriate to ask the child if he or she prefers to explain what happened in writing, or to show something by drawing or other means available in the interview room.

Drawings, pictures, pictures, photos, dolls, figurines, can be used for children to:

– to assess language and comprehension;

– for calming and familiarisation with space;

– to facilitate recall and description of events.

In the case of young children and children with communication difficulties, it is easier for them to give details when drawings, pictures, photos, symbols, dolls are used, compared to purely narrative (verbal) approaches.

Taking great care not to interrupt the narrative, the interviewer may ask questions to clarify where the child was touched, the words the child used for the parts touched, and the place and role (function) of the relevant body parts.

It is essential that the interviewer follows up any disclosures obtained in this way with open-ended requests for elaboration to encourage the child to provide narrative responses that contain additional relevant details.

Using drawnings

The interviewer can use drawings made by the child. These drawings can be made during the interview or before. The drawings can be used in different ways to facilitate communication.

The symbolic nature of drawings and pictures is easier for young children to understand than with dolls or models. It is useful to check whether a child can represent him/herself in the drawing and as far as possible the child should be left to label the drawings themselves.

If aspects of the drawing are unclear or further detail would be beneficial, the interviewer may consider using the drawings carefully for verification and elaboration, continuing to seek verbal explanations.

The use of drawings in the interview has advantages, including:

  • the child can demonstrate an event more easily than with words;
  • it allows two ways of communicating, so young children can say and show;
  • more detail can be obtained from the child with fewer questions;
  • drawing can trigger recall;
  • helps overcome children’s fears and reluctance and is less stressful for children;
  • can resolve concerns about misrepresentation;
  • provides a framework for a child to give a more detailed statement.

When using drawings, the interviewer should ensure that the child’s facial expression, gestures and non-verbal language, as well as the drawings or other techniques used, are visible to the recording camera.

Any drawings or writings produced by the child to explain or clarify information related to the abuse should be described in the interview documentation, labeled appropriately, and kept as evidence.

It is recommended that interviewers begin interviews by trying to develop rapport by encouraging the child to talk. Other means (drawings, drawings etc) should only be considered when necessary to gather information, and their use should be carefully documented (by video recording if possible), and always accompanied by requests for verbal elaboration from the child.

Using anatomical dolls

When anatomically detailed dolls are used, it is important that the interviewer is trained in their use and understands how they can be misused.

Children’s interaction with these dolls alone is unlikely to produce evidence that can be used in the criminal justice process.

In the main, puppets with anatomical representations should only be used as an aid to enable the child to demonstrate the meaning of the terms used or to clarify verbal statements. Anatomical dolls can be used more effectively to clarify body parts or body positions than conventional dolls. However, they should only be used after verbal disclosure of an offence by the child or if there is a serious suspicion that such an offence has been committed and the child is unable to put it into words.

Interviewing children with disabilities or communication difficulties

In principle, there is no reason why children with disabilities should not participate in recorded interviews, although additional training is needed for these situations.

Particular attention will be paid to creating a safe and accessible environment for the child and his/her needs. In the case of children with communication difficulties, the support of drawings or photographs should be taken into account when formulating questions.

For some children, a number of shorter sessions may be preferable to a single interview.

For example, some children (with learning difficulties or ADHD) have shorter attention spans, which gives rise to the need for regular breaks. Other children (with physical or mental disabilities) may find communication too demanding and therefore need faster paced or shorter interviews.

Children with learning disabilities tend to have a harder time adjusting to unfamiliar situations than other children. In these situations, more time will be needed to prepare for the interview and especially the debriefing phase. Children with learning difficulties may be more easily distracted. Interview rooms should be organised to reduce opportunities for distraction.

When planning the hearing, it is advisable to consider the possibility that these children may have difficulties with time concepts. Also, the debriefing stage will require more time and attention, especially if an intermediary or interpreter will facilitate the interview.

Children with learning disabilities are able to provide accurate free statements, although they will be less complete than other children.

Open-ended questions will be used as much as possible. Another strategy that may lead to additional information is to reflect back the information the child has provided in unfinished sentences.

Questions should be simple and concrete. Double negative, abstract terms and inappropriate questions should be avoided. Young children are very vulnerable to leading questions. They give shorter answers to open questions.

Children in a certain state of mental health or traumatised children may be very reluctant to be interviewed. Young children think that adults know everything and are always right. It is essential that they are given the opportunity to correct the interviewer during the debriefing phase. Young and traumatised children may find the interview a daunting situation. Encouraging leadership from the interviewer and support team can be helpful. One option in these situations may be to divide the interview into short sessions over several days.

Other methods – e.g. hand puppets, doll houses, cards, sand trays, are not recommended for use in interviews. Although they may be useful for treatment, they may encourage fantasy, lead to distortion and/or distraction or be suggestive during a forensic interview.



Forensic interviews with children: Exploring the richness of children’s drawing and the richness of their testimony Carmit Katz, Anna-Lisa Klages, Liat Hamama, 2018