Preparing for a Forensic Interview of a Child: What Criminal Justice Professionals Need to Know

Preparing for a Forensic Interview of a Child: What Criminal Justice Professionals Need to Know
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1Module 1
Recorded on: 2022-07-28
Unit 1Presentation Materials: Preparing for a Forensic Interview of a Child
Unit 2Transcript: Preparing for a Forensic Interview of a Child
Unit 3Workbook: Preparing for a Forensic Interview of a Child
Unit 4Recording: Preparing for a Forensic Interview of a Child

Witness and victim interviews are critical in investigations. Challenges however arise when the victim or witness is a child who may not be able to fully articulate what they experienced or witnessed. This webinar unpacks the value of forensic interviewers in eliciting as accurate of an information as they can from children to facilitate investigations and court proceedings and ultimately protect children from forms of abuse.

Leading the discussion is Wendy Dutton, a Forensic Interviewer with the Child Protection Team at Child Help Children’s Advocacy Center. She has conducted thousands of forensic interviews, testified frequently as an expert witness in child abuse cases in Arizona and Montana, published articles in professional journals and newsletters, and authored a treatment workbook for sexually abused children.

Specifics of the session tackled:

  • The common consumers of forensic interview information and its role in protecting children from abuse.
  • How forensic interviews are typically conducted and the factors that shape the interviewer’s approach.
  • General information to primarily collect including the child’s identity, language proficiency, and developmental and cultural considerations.
  • Going through the history of allegations particularly:
    • The initial disclosure recipient, the circumstances surrounding the disclosure, and the exact words used during disclosure or a recording of the child’s statement.
    • Response to the disclosure and potential disclosure disasters, and events that transpired since.
    • Other disclosure recipients and prior formal or informal interviews that the child has had.
  • Family composition and living arrangements to review establish the timeframe of abuse particularly:
    • Custody set-up, parenting and caretaking schedules, and timelines of the family’s residences.
    • The parents’ marital and relationship history, the child’s relationship with the perpetrator, and forms of family violence within the household.
  • Unpacking the history of substance and alcohol abuse within the household which may provide context on the child’s development, risks within the household, or a child’s reluctance to report abuse.
  • Using school records, academic performance, and school behavior to spot irregularities and narrow down timeframe and corroborate evidence.
  • Spotting behavior changes and mental health considerations before conducting an interview.
  • Looking into the sexual history of the child and related information for sexual abuse allegations specifically…
    • Spotting potential abuse based on changes in sexual behavior and discerning between normative and non-normative sexual behavior in children.
    • Exposure to sexually explicit materials – both online and offline – as part of the perpetrator’s grooming or as the child’s source of information on sexual behavior.
    • Sexual abuse prevention information provided to the child which may impact disclosure.
  • How prior disclosures or allegations of sexual or physical abuse can shape and impact the current case.
  • Considerations for child witnesses of domestic violence and homicide who may experience trauma causing distorted perception and memory of events.
  • Common reasons why information gathered through forensic interviews may not be accurate and the importance of managing the expectations of those involved as to why it is such.
  • The importance of familiarizing with the child’s vocabulary and terms used to refer to family members, places, body parts, clothes, and injuries to facilitate clarity during the interview.
  • When it is appropriate for a forensic interviewer as opposed to a detective to interview a witness/victim.
  • Guidelines on wording the narrative invitation and cued recall questions during the forensic interview to ensure that these are not leading.
  • Alternative explanations to consider should there be inaccuracies or confusing aspects on the results of the forensic interview.

Questions from the audience are about:

  • Recommendations to prevent leading questions for a minimal fact interview.
  • Written summaries from law enforcement.
  • Requirements to conduct a forensic interview with a child.
  • Utilizing coloring books and therapy dogs to make a child comfortable during interviews.
  • Pointers when interviewing a child who is denying abuse due to fear of retaliation.
  • The difference in approach when conducting a forensic interview for a trafficking victim.
  • Populations where forensic interviewing is used.



Other Webinars with this Presenter


Or, click here to register and view other Victim Assistance/Victim Advocate webinars and recordings on the JCH website. 


Resources and Handouts


Audience Comments

  • “Great presenter and valuable information.” — Sari
  • “Some of the tips about parents interviewing children as well as history were interesting.” — Siti
  • “Excellent. Every investigator should see the webinar. A must!” — Robert
  • “I enjoyed learning about the different techniques used during interviews, this made me feel better prepared for any future interview I may need to conduct!” — Katie
  • “Wendy Dutton’s tips on how to interview were valuable to my work. Every webinar JCH presents is excellent — to the max! Thank you so much.” — Teresa
  • “I have been involved with forensic interviews as an investigator, not an interviewer, so I was familiar with much of what Wendy discussed. However, I did pick up a few things which is beneficial. Thanks again!” — Ricardo
  • “As a CPSW I’m used to the therapy dog and getting a child to open up. But extremely interesting from the forensic side. Extremely insightful.” — Margaret
  • “Wonderful job. Great information. Thanks so much.” — Jeffrey
  • “Some of this information would be useful in my job speaking to elder abuse victims.” — Shelia
  • “Pre-interview considerations were helpful to know, as she included things I haven’t thought about.” — Sidney
  • “It has been a great summary of what to do in front of a child. Thanks for it.” — Sonia
  • “This was a very good overview of child forensic interview preparation.” — Steven
  • “The topic is incredibly new to me, so I found everything to be valuable.” — Marilyn
  • “Inciteful information on “child custody” cases! Liked your reasoning when testifying in court about having information on a crime prior to the forensic interview. Appreciated your information on talking to caregivers about a child’s age and why they may touch themselves.” — Gennie
  • “It was a reminder of how I need to step back so I can see the full scope of information needed prior to the FI, information from the outcry, information from the family dynamics, history of abuse, information about the minor, words used by a minor. I thought she made a good point about the importance of knowing age-appropriate normative behaviors, it would be good to have something to let us know what they are or at least to confirm what we think would be normative behaviors for specific age groups.” — Herbert






This webinar was pre-approved for 1 CEU credit by the National Advocate Credentialing Program (NACP)® and the DoD Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program (D-SAACP).  Founded in 1975, the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) is the oldest national victim assistance organization of its type in the United States and is the recognized leader in victim advocacy, education and credentialing.  To learn more about NOVA, visit




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