You never know when your child or the child of someone you may know may witness abuse or experience it first-hand. It is important to know how to support these young individuals should the time come. Studies have shown that most children have a unique sense of memory and their curiosity provokes a keen sense of detail. As a result, investigation agencies follow a protocol known as a “Forensic Interview” when asking the child for testimony or to serve as a witness. A forensic interview is a primary step used by most Child Protective Services (CPS) in the United States, and it is performed in a child-friendly environment to understand what a child has been through or witnessed in terms of abuse. Stay tuned to learn more about the 10 common forensic interview questions and sample answers.
Forensic Interview Questions
- Tell me something about yourself.
“I am 8 years old and my favorite color is green and I like to have cereal and milk for breakfast every day.”
*Note*: Because of their young age, they will not form perfect sentences or give much detail at the start. During the rapport-building stage of the interview, the interviewer will ask multiple follow-up questions to gain the child’s trust, so they start adding more detail to the sentence. However, this sentence format is a great starting point as the interviewer can begin to build a child’s profile based on their eating habits, favorite color and can proceed to phrase the interview questions in a way that is age-appropriate and comprehensible.
“I like to play soccer with my friends at the park.”
“I like to play video games inside my house.”
*Note*: This is one of the most common questions asked by forensic interviewers. The answer often helps the interviewer better understand the child’s most common location and helps them deduce a likely location or a list of likely locations. In addition, this question is used as a psychological trick for children because they show that they are interested in what they have to say. What they do in their day, they will feel more comfortable around you and become receptive to the interviewer’s questions. Finally, this question is also used to help the child get used to open-ended questions that will be asked as the interview progresses so that the child does not feel overwhelmed and comfortable.
- So do you know what we are here to talk to me about today?
“Yes, you want to know about what I saw when I was at the park.”
“No, but you seem very nice.”
*Note*: If the parents have previously mentioned to the child that someone will be asking them questions about XYZ incidence, then the child will likely answer “Yes” and throw in a few details that will help the investigation move forward. However, if the child has forgotten or is just unaware of what is happening, the interviewer must build a positive rapport and gain your child’s trust. This is known as the substantive phase of the interview process. The goal is to ensure that the child is not subject to suggestive behavior and feels comfortable speaking with the interviewer. Asking such open-ended questions and helping the child become self-aware is a good starting point to help them have an easier time during a forensic interview.
- Tell me more.
“This person was standing under a tree.”
*Note*: This is a form of a Narrative Event Practice (NEP), and it will allow the child to communicate what they recall from a specific event. The child must be reassured that it is okay to take pauses and collect their thoughts and that the interviewer does not interrupt the narrative. If the child asks a rhetorical question, it is vital that the interviewer does not guess and rather says, “I don’t know,” or helps the child answer the question themselves. This helps the child gain a sense of control, and they will feel respected and heard in the interview process. Creating this safe space outside of the interview room where the child can speak freely without interruption is essential to help them feel more comfortable during the actual forensic interview.
- What happened next?
“The person just stood there for a long time and was always looking at me and my friend.”
*Note*: This is a follow-up question to question number 4 and provides the same opportunity for the child as mentioned in question number 4. The child needs to feel like they are in control of the narrative and that they can speak without hesitation.
- Do you remember what they were wearing/what they look like?
“They were wearing a black sweater and black pants.”
*Note*: Aside from allowing the child to continue the narrative, the child can help the interviewer further profile a suspect and get a clearer picture of what the event may have looked like from the point of view of a child witness. For questions like these, it is best to always check up on your child and have conversations with them about how their day went and what they remember to help train their memory from an early age. This will also prove beneficial in their lives down the road and serve as an asset during a forensic interview.
- Do you know about the XYZ incidence?
“Yeah, I was there.”
*Note*: Option-based questions are used when external stimulus and/or information is provided to further the interview. The child’s answer for these questions will likely be one or two-word answers, and that is where the interviewer will begin asking follow-up questions such as #4 and #5.
- Have you seen/experienced this before?
“Yeah, I was there.”
*Note*: This is a similar question to number 7, with the only difference being that this question is directly asking what the child has either experienced or witnessed. By making the question more personal, the child will likely have more to say and include more details or follow-up questions.
- How did this make you feel?
“I was really scared.”
*Note*: By gaining a better understanding of what the child was feeling at the time, the interviewer will understand the climate of the event and what the situation could have been like. This further helps to profile a suspect. In addition, by asking about the child’s feelings, the interviewer will build a better rapport with the child and improve the quality of the investigation. Furthermore, if the child has experienced any form of trauma, this question can help the interviewer determine the necessary next steps to ensure the child is safe and recovers quickly.
“No, here’s what happened…”
*Note*: The interviewer usually does this near the end of the interview. After reiterating what the child has said, the interviewer allows the child to correct the interviewer and add any details that they may have missed. One example of a prompt is, “let me know if I missed anything.” This helps the child understand that the interviewer is not perfect and could have missed something important. Oftentimes, this technique is executed in two different methods. The first one being the interviewer reiterates what the child has said and purposely says something incorrect to cross-check what the child said initially to what the child says when they correct the interviewer. The second method is when the interviewer asks the child to summarize and essentially reiterate what they already said to see if there are any irregularities in the details the child provides or the hopes that they can recall details that they previously may have forgotten.
These are just 10 of the most common questions that can be asked during a forensic interview. It is important that the child has previous experience with being in a safe environment and has had the opportunity to answer open-ended questions. A forensic interview is designed for the child to be safe and protected and is always comfortable throughout the process.
- Can I be with my child during a forensic interview? No. Most forensic interview agencies prefer that there is no external influence on the child during the interview process.
- Can I watch the forensic interview? No. They are not directly part of the investigative process so they are not permitted to watch the video.
- How long is a forensic interview? This depends on the child’s needs and ability, but on average, a forensic interview lasts about 30 minutes.
- Is the interview recorded? The interview is recorded for the convenience of the child and is only shared with professionals who need the recording to do their jobs.