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The Florida Department of Health works to protect, promote & improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county, & community efforts.

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Forensic Interview Task Force

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Purpose of the Task Force  

In 2017, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 1269, stating that Children’s Medical Services (CMS) will convene a task force to develop a standardized protocol for forensic interviewing of children suspected of having been abused. DOH must provide the Florida legislature with the protocol by July 1, 2018. 

Task Force Objectives

  1. To understand the goals and objectives of a child forensic interview
  2. To understand the current child forensic interviewing practices being used in the United States
  3. To understand what is currently considered to be ‘best practice’ in the field of child forensic interviewing
  4. To develop and/or recommend a standardized protocol that can be used in Florida when conducting forensic interviews of children

What is a child forensic interview (FI):  

“A forensic interview of a child is a developmentally sensitive and legally sound method of gathering factual information regarding allegations of abuse or exposure to violence. This interview is conducted by a competently trained, neutral professional utilizing research and practice-informed techniques as part of a larger investigative process.”

  • Goals of a Child Forensic Interview:
  • Current Status of Child Forensic Interviewing:
  • Best practices for Child Forensic Interviews
  • To allow the child to verbally describe event(s)
  • To elicit a complete and accurate account of events, as told by the child, to help determine whether abuse occurred, or if the child is in imminent danger of abuse
  • Maintain an impartial and objective position
  • Gather information that will either corroborate or refute the allegations of abuse
  • Consider all reasonable hypotheses
  • Maintain legal defensibility of the interview
  • Practices vary in regards to the most effective and defensible way to help a reluctant child transition to the topic of concern
  • Narrative practice increases a child’s informative responses to open ended questions
  • While one interview may be sufficient for most children, some children may require more than one interview
  • Supervision and peer review of interview practices is very important
  • Community practices differ related to using truth/lie component
  • Recent research tells us children are less likely to make false statements if they promise to tell the truth
  • All practices agree that building rapport is important for the child and interviewer
  • Giving interview rules during rapport building sets the expectation for children to give accurate and complete information, and it reduces suggestibility
  • Understanding the disclosure process and that children respond to trauma differently is critical; no single disclosure pattern is predominant
  • All forensic interviews include a rapport building phase, a substantive phase and a closure phase
  • Interviewers often get training in a variety of practices and use a “blended” approach to meet the needs of children.  Children with special needs may require individualized techniques.
  • All practices recognize that the child’s age, developmental functioning and cultural influences are extremely important
  • The use of media varies greatly among different interview practices
  • Interviewers may use interviewing tools such as drawings, dolls, etc.
  • Forensic interviews should be electronically recorded
  • Persons doing interviews should have formal initial training and ongoing training
  • If the child’s mental stability allows, a forensic interview should be done as soon as possible
  • The environment should be neutral, objective and child friendly
  • Maximize the amount of information obtained through free recall
  • Be as open ended and nonsuggestive as possible when introducing suspected abuse
  • Don’t interrupt a child’s narrative response
  • “Wh” questions are the least leading way to obtain missing details
  • Ask if an event occurred “one time or more than one time”
  • Delay the use of multiple choice questions, yes/no questions and questions that either introduce information, or the possibility of information as long as possible; also limit the use of these techniques
  • Interviewers should communicate with multidisciplinary team members and balance requests with the need to maintain legal defensibility and the child’s ability to give more information