The interview process completed for an allegation of child abuse has come a long way in the past three decades. Staff with the Lincoln County Coalition Against Child Abuse work together as a team with law enforcement, health care workers and staff at the department of social services with the Lincoln County Child Advocacy Center at the center of the nucleus. They collaborate to get the job done together in a more expeditious manner and with the goal of there being less trauma on the victim.
The team frequently attends training to keep their skills current and to learn new competencies. On Wednesday, two new forensic interviewers who will be working with the LCCAC on a contract basis and one detective from the Lincolnton Police Department attended a clinic being taught by Mark D. Everson, PhD, a trailblazer in the field of child forensic interviewing and Scott Rodriguez, a retired law enforcement officer from Dare County. The training was on a type of forensic interviewing known as “Recognizing Abuse Disclosure and Responding” (RADAR).
“We try to train all of our team members in this method of interviewing so that when we’re doing interviews, they understand the model so that together we can better help solicit narrative information,” Sherry Reinhardt, the director of the LCCAC said. “When both parties realize the limitations of the system and how to help the child be able to give information about the details of their experience, it’s a win-win situation.”
Reinhardt, who has taken this course in the past, said that it was a good way of just learning how to listen.
“People usually listen to have a response,” she said. “I use the skills that I have every day with my own children, grandchildren and friends.”
Everson conducted his first interview of an abused child in 1983. Back then, the type of interview that he conducted was more of clinical vs. forensic. The child was four-year-old foster child who had been sexually abused. Everson was attracted to this brand-new field at the time. There was a lot of excitement about how to best conduct interviews of abused children.
In forensic interviewing vs. clinical interviewing, there are more rules in place about the kinds of questions, according to Everson. These questions are chosen very carefully so that they’re not suggestive. In clinical interviewing, there’s more emphasis on feelings and perceptions of the child. In a forensic interview, it’s more focused on what happened.
RADAR is a modification of the NICHD Investigative Interview Protocol developed by Everson and his colleagues in 2009 while at the National Institute on Child Health and Development. Research suggests that the original NICHD protocol is most effective with children and adolescents who are in the active disclosure phase. For the last 10 years, Everson has been instructing others in interviewing best practices.
“The more details you can get, it gives the case more credibility,” Everson said. “In the past, we would often get very short accounts and we didn’t know how to listen to detail. Now we’re much better at getting detail.”
While Rodriguez was in law enforcement in Dare County, they didn’t have child advocacy services in the county, so he approached his sheriff about the problem. It was decided that Rodriguez would go to get trained to be a forensic interviewer. This was back in 2010.
“Depending upon where you’re at in Dare County, it could be two to three hours away to get to a child advocacy center,” he said. “We had victims falling through the cracks.”
Rodriguez has been trained in three different models of interviewing, including RADAR and its RADAR that he believes is the best.
“It changed me as a police officer,” he said. “Not only with interviewing kids but interviewing people in general. It’s completely changed how I talk to people. My goal as a child interviewer and in teaching other people to be interviewers, is to try to get corroborative leads from the child. That way an investigator can follow up on with the child said and get evidence to take the burden off the child’s shoulders. Then there’s less likelihood that we’re putting the kid on the stand or even the interviewer on the stand.”
This type of interview is difficult for all involved, but particularly for the victim. Rodriguez said that it’s the job of the interviewer to provide the child with a doorway that’s easier to walk through.
“The kid still has to make up their mind, ‘do I want to tell this stranger,’” he said. “My job is to provide an easy path for them to do it. Ultimately, it’s their decision. We don’t tell kids they have to tell us. We put the doorways there and see if the child will come through. More and more times, kids will tell me at the end of the interview that I asked them questions that gave them the opportunity to say things that they wouldn’t have been able to say to someone else. That’s how this model works.”