Basics in Forensic Interviews of Children

A forensic interview of a child is a structured interview created by experts to get the true account of what might have been experienced by a child. It is usually used to get a true account that a law enforcement agency may use as evidence of a crime or corroborate alleged crimes of abuse or neglect of the child.

For a long time, experts have researched ways that children can be questioned about things that had occurred in their lives. They did these studies to ensure that children could be questioned without them feeling pressured or traumatized while they gave the right account of events that unfolded, and also to verify the interviewer does not influence the child’s responses. The studies done ended in the creation of various forensic interview protocols that are currently used.

Some of the protocols that one may come across are Michigan Forensic Interviewing Protocol, the National Children’s Advocacy Center’s Child Forensic Interview Structure, the Lyons interview method, as well as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development protocol.

Intense empirical research had been done before they were created and accepted by experts. There is no general agreement in the industry on which protocol should be followed. Anyone accused of a crime of child abuse should be aware of the steps that must be adhered to in a forensic interview in order to be able to properly critique and attack a forensic interview that does not strictly follow the protocol.

Out of all the protocols in existence, the NICHD protocol is the most widely spread used. If the interviewer deviates from what is expected, your attorney can argue against the reliability of the evidence gathered during the interview.

The Different Stages of a Forensic Interview Phase 1: Pre-Interview Preparation

Phase 1 of the forensic interview process is the pre-interview preparation. In this stage, the forensic interviewer is involved in getting to know the child, before actually meeting the child. The interviewer tries to find out about the background of the child. Here, it is expected that the interviewer makes use of alternative hypotheses. After making those hypotheses, the forensic interviewer creates questions that can test every hypothesis formulated.

The interviewer is expected to ensure that the recording instrument that will be used is in working order. The interview should be recorded by video or audio format to ensure that no information is lost. Though notetaking may be great, video and audio recording are better.

This stage is controversial. Many interviewers go into an interview knowing nothing about the reason why they are meeting with the child. This is preferable because then the interviewer doesn’t go into the interview with any preconceived notions, which may be incorrect and result in predetermined misdirection of the interview.

Phase 2: Rapport Building

Phase 2 of the forensic interview is referred to as rapport building. At this stage, the interviewer is expected to make the child feel at home by introducing him or herself. Before a forensic interview can be done, the child should be comfortable with the interviewer. In this phase, the child forensic interviewer will tell (or ask) the child why he or she is being interviewed. While the conversation ensues, the interviewer will try to analyze the verbal and cognitive skills of the child.

Phase 3: Carry Out a Practice Interview

Phase 3 of the forensic interview is to engage the child in a “practice interview” exercise. The interviewer is expected to tell the child to only say what he or she knows is true, and not use the trial and error method when answering a question. The interviewer will start by asking the child random questions to which the child should or should not know the answer, to verify if the child understands and can state the difference between what is true and what is a lie. It is important that the interviewer buttresses the need for the child to speak only the truth. Studies show that when you tell kids to promise to tell the truth that they may most likely speak only the facts.

Phase 4: Substantive Phase of the Interview

Phase 4 of the forensic interview is when the interviewer and child get to the substance of the reason for the interview. The interviewer should carry this out in a neutral environment to ensure that the child can speak freely. The child should speak without the interviewer offering suggestive words or hints. The only thing the interviewer is expected to do is ask open-ended questions following up on statements that the child makes to prevent the child from saying what he or she thinks the interviewer wants to hear.

Phase 5: Ask for Clarification When Needed

Phase 5 of the forensic interview is when the interviewer tries to clarify anything that isn’t clear. When the child is done recounting his or her experience, the interviewer can ask for clarifications using the statement the child had uttered. While doing that, he must follow some strict procedures, which involve asking direct questions based on the statement the child had offered without dropping any suggestive hint.


When the protocol isn’t followed, the results of the interview and statements made by the child may be called into question.