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Interviewing Children For Legal Proceedings

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Interviewing Children For Legal Proceedings

This program is designed to provide a basic understanding of how to interview children, specifically children who have experienced trauma and may also be refugees. Attendees will gain a comprehension of the different developmental ages of children and learn techniques to effectively interview children to gather information for legal proceedings. The training will include sample questions and hypotheticals to practice these techniques.


Priya Konings
Regional Director
KIND (Kids In Need of Legal Defense)


Priya Konings - Hello everyone. Thank you for joining today's training. My name is Priya Konings and I'll be conducting today's training on interviewing children for legal proceedings. By way of background, I'm currently a Regional Director at Kids in Need of Defense. I've been a child welfare attorney throughout the duration of my legal career. I began as child's counsel in foster care proceedings in the state of Maryland and DC. During which time I conducted hundreds of interviews of children for their legal proceedings. I then transitioned into a attorney for Kids in Need of Defense, which a nonprofit organization that works with child refugees and assists them in securing immigration relief. And as a staff attorney at Kids in Need of Defense, I similarly conducted a significant number of interviews of children for legal proceedings, and then eventually went on to become a regional director.

In today's training, we are going to focus on interviewing children effectively for the purposes of legal proceedings. So we are going to discuss who are you interviewing, what kinds of challenges are they facing, what tools you need in order to conduct an effective interview, how to elicit the information that you need in order to put forth a successful case, and how to understand the answers that you receive while you're conducting said interviews. So let's begin by talking about who you are interviewing. So when you are interviewing children, you are going to be likely interviewing someone with an intersecting identity. So what does that mean? Not only are they a child, but likely they are a trauma survivor. So if you are interviewing children for an immigration case, for a family law case, for a criminal case, they have likely experienced some kind of trauma. And if you are interviewing a child for an immigration case and possibly for another type of case, they might also be an immigrant or a refugee, which poses additional challenges when conducting an interview of said individual. We think of children at being sort of at the heart of these different intersecting identities and each of these identities poses challenges, and means that your child is a part of different vulnerable populations. And so it's important to consider all of those vulnerable populations when you are conducting your interview.

So let's talk about what it means to interview children. There are a number of challenges that you should keep in mind. First that working with kids is very different than interviewing adults, particularly in the fact that you are going to be trying to communicate complicated legal proceedings, using complicated legal terms, which are often quite abstract and may be difficult for children to understand. Children often have both a limited vocabulary as well as a limited perspective. And so it may require extra effort in breaking down information and explaining terms and concepts so that the child understands it. I usually recommend by starting any interview with a child, simply by asking the child if they know what a lawyer is. And then that serves as a launching pad to explain who you are, what your role is in this process, what the legal proceedings are that you are about to prepare for, why you need to prepare for them, and what steps are forthcoming.

You wanna keep in mind the individual's phase of development and what kind of language you are using according to that phase of development. And we will discuss the different phases of development of children further. Always remember to simplify when working with children so to ensure that they're comprehending the complicated legal terms that you are trying to convey. Remember also that children focus on the literal interpretation. And so, for example, the concepts that you are using may be nebulous for them. For example, the word threat can be difficult to understand. A child may be able to understand that someone standing over them saying I want to kill you is being threatening. However, someone stalking them or showing weapons or forcing them to watch others being harmed, they may not understand that that is a veiled threat. And so really breaking down concepts and giving examples can be helpful depending on what kind of information you're trying to gather from them. Similarly, words such as consequences can be complicated for children to understand. And children may also minimize any situations, dangerous or scary situations that have happened to them because they don't want to worry adults. And that can include you as their attorney.

Children are also concerned about whether adults will believe them and what will happen to them if they disclose the truth. And so it is imperative that you reassure the child that the information they're conveying will remain confidential and to explain to them what will be used in their case, or what can be used in their case so you can ensure that you have their permission. And to explain to the child that you are there to assist them and to explain the context of how you are working with them so that you can start to build some trust with them. And they are more likely to open up and share the necessary facts that you are looking for without them being afraid that you'll use this information somehow against them.

If you are working in a situation where your client is also a refugee or the child is also a refugee, it's important to remember that refugees often have language barriers. They might use different mannerisms. Talking about sensitive issues might be uncomfortable for them. And so you may want to do some cultural sensitivity research in anticipation of interviewing your child client and remember that their life circumstance is likely different than yours and situations of violence may be normalized for them. And they might have different educational differences. They might have a distrust of legal system depending on what country they're from. And so those might be things that you need to address with them on the front end of your interview.

As I mentioned earlier, most likely the child that you are interviewing, whether it's for a family case, criminal case, immigration case, the child will likely be a trauma survivor, which means they will have memory impairment and suppression, most likely. Children and adults who have experienced trauma often have difficulty with chronology, with details. They may have impaired concentration and decision making skills. There might be physical effects, such as insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite, a reduced immune response. They may be disassociating with situations of trauma that they've experienced. They might have a flat affect. It can be shameful for children to discuss situations of trauma out loud. And so they may avoid speaking about such situations. So these are all important factors to remember when interviewing children who are trauma survivors, because it is important that you don't re-traumatize them, but that you build trust with them so that they're able to share confidential and sensitive information with you in a way that they are comfortable doing so.

Let's turn to the different developmental ages of children and how this affects your ability to interview them.

So children who land in the ages of three to five years old have a very short attention span. So that means approximately five to 10 minutes. That means during this time, you may have their full attention, but it's important that you give breaks every 10 minutes. And those breaks might have to be lengthy. Because after about 10 minutes you're gonna lose their attention on the topic you're discussing. Children in this age range often do not understand cause and effect. They can't explain why things happen to them. They don't understand circumstances, consequences, chronology, and they often have a hard time distinguishing between fantasy and reality, which means they're very susceptible to suggestion. And it's important that you don't ask too many leading questions because they may be likely to agree with you even if it is not accurate information.

Children in the six to 11 age range have a longer attention span. It's about 15 to 30 minutes. But that means they should be getting breaks during any interview at least every 30 minutes. Children in this age range often have little understanding of chronology, but they are very concerned with being accepted. They want to please individuals. They want to seek praise. They wanna show that they're doing the best. And so they too will be very susceptible to suggestion because they will want to please you as their attorney. And so it's important that you focus on gathering accurate information and not providing them with answers that they may agree to because they think it's what you want to hear.

Children ages 12 to 18, have a longer attention span. So that is a benefit. You will still wanna give them regular breaks. At least every 45 minutes. They are more independent and have a greater understanding of chronology and timeframes. So that is a benefit. But they are often confused about their self, their place in society. They have feelings of responsibility to their family, which may hinder them in disclosing certain information about their family to you. Especially if they're not sure how that information will be used. They do focus on the short term and close relationships are important to them. They're also hyper attuned to peer pressure. So depending on what kind of case it is, if it involves disclosing information about friends that might be subject to any outside influences they've received from friends on what information they can and should disclose. So that's something to be aware of.

So, now that we kind of understand the developmental ages of children, let's talk a little bit about how to conduct an effective interview of a child who's likely a trauma survivor and may or may not also be a refugee.

So first and foremost, it can be helpful to have the support of an adult while the child is getting comfortable with the interviewer. So upon first meeting with a child, it can be helpful to have a trusted adult there, whether that's a parent, a family friend, an older sibling, just to get to know the child and to ask some getting to know you questions, building some rapport. However, it is very important that once the actual interview starts, the child is alone with you, the interviewer. Children may not feel open or be comfortable to share information in front of adults. They may be worried about getting in trouble or getting the adult in trouble. They may feel embarrassed about information they need to share regarding their case. They may not wanna worry any adults in their lives. And so likely the information you receive, if the child is still in the same room with the adult will be different than if you interview the child on their own. It is however helpful to know that adult relatives can be a source of information in a separate interview. And so, depending on the type of case you have, you should consider reaching out to adult relatives for individual interviews at a later time. In terms of a physical space, smaller spaces are better than large rooms, which can seem intimidating to children. It's helpful to sit next to, not across from the child so it doesn't seem like you're interrogating the child.

It is really important to ask the child, if you have their permission to close the door, there's a possibility the child may not feel comfortable in having the door closed, especially depending on what kind of trauma they've experienced. And so if confidentiality is an issue, you may want to have a white noise machine or some other sound available so that if the child prefers the door to be left open, you can have the door open. Children should not be placed with their back to the door that can often make them nervous and having a clean space without too much clutter or distraction for the child is also helpful. I also recommend turning off your phone ringers, closing your laptop so that the child knows a hundred percent of your attention is on them. You also want to make it a comfortable situation where you have tissues available, beverages, lights that aren't too bright, and also having maybe some paper and crayons available or stress balls available for the child to utilize while they're talking about sensitive topics because it gives them something to have that they can do with their hands or something else to focus on while discussing information that could be difficult for them. If you are using an interpreter because your child is not a native English speaker, it's important to remember to advise the interpreter, to sit to the side of the child and not conduct the interview for you, but rather to fully interpret and allow you to engage with the child directly. You wanna make sure that the child and interpreter are not related, because again, that may hinder the child in being open with you and disclosing the full amount of detail that you need for the case.

It's important that children have the opportunity to speak and that they are able to use short sentences and take breaks. And the interpreter should be informed of that on the front end. The interpreter should also pause frequently and not have any side conversations with you so that the child does not become uncomfortable. Upon meeting the child client, it's important that you start to build rapport as I mentioned, explaining your role, what is a lawyer, why you are working with them and explaining the process every step of the way. So if you're writing things down, why are you writing them down? If you're recording, do you have their permission? What are you recording? Why are you recording it? How will the information you are gathering be used? With whom will it be shared and with whom will it not be shared? Discussing the parameters of confidentiality is really important when working with children and explaining that a child can choose not to answer questions or not discuss certain items is always helpful so that the child feels the most comfortable.

While conducting your interview you want to continuously gauge for comfort and understanding. So asking, did I explain that okay? Are you worried about anything I said? Are you nervous? Is there anything I've said that's made you nervous? Asking them to restate important information can also be helpful. When I say confidential, do you know what that means? Can you explain it back to me? Confirming that it is okay for the child to say, I don't know or I don't understand is also really important. And you want to continuously be asking your child client if they want to take a break, not just for a bathroom break, but even just a break to reset, or to get a drink of water or to take a walk and be in a different environment. All of that can help maintain the child's ability to continue with the interview if they're feeling fatigued or overwhelmed.

It is also recommended that you use active listening skills. So that means providing the child with undivided attention. As I mentioned, turning off your phone, closing your laptop, making direct eye contact with the child, paying attention to the child's body language, asking them if they need breaks, but also noticing if it looks like they're fidgeting or losing interest then offering to take a break at that time. There are many ways that you can show that you're listening, which helps validate the child as they're conveying a story. And that means occasionally nodding, smiling, other appropriate facial expressions, encouraging the child to continue with their story by saying yes or thank you, please continue. Using words that clarify, summarize and reflect what the child is saying is also helpful. And it allows the child to know that you are paying attention. You can also validate the child and say that you appreciate their willingness to talk to you about this. Thank them for sharing sensitive information with you, all of those go a long way to build rapport and provide an excellent arena for your child client to share information with you.

It's important also that you remain non-judgmental and don't engage with the child as though it's a cross examination, or you're putting them on trial. While there may be scenarios where you're prepping them for trial and you have to act like you are the cross examiner, I recommend doing that with advanced notice so the child knows that's why you're asking questions with a certain tone or demeanor. Just during an interview process where you're gathering information from the child, I would keep the situation least adversarial as possible and engage with the child in a friendly and validating manner.

So how do we ask effective questions of children? First and foremost, it's important to speak at a really slow rate so the child is able to understand what you were saying. Particularly if the child you are interviewing is of a younger age. You want to allow children time to process the question. If they're at a reading level, it may be helpful to also write it down if that's a way that they absorb information. You want to allow space for silence for the child to think of a response, for the child to absorb the question. But you also should be cognizant that sometimes too much silence might mean that the child is not understanding the questions that you're asking, and you might need to rephrase or simplify.

It's important not to interrupt the child when they are answering your questions. Even if it seems that the child has misinterpreted your question, you want to wait until they have completed their response and then redirect after that. Compound questions are really complicated for children to understand at any age. And so one question at a time is really helpful. Plurals and collective nouns are compound. So it's really important to keep questions as simple as possible in order to get the best response. And again, any kind of cross examination is counterproductive. If the child somehow senses that you're an adversarial figure, they will shut down. And so as empathetic as you can be, will greatly benefit you when interviewing your child client in terms of gathering as much information as you need.

It's important to remember that there are no simple questions. So an example is, who was living with you at the time that X happened? Now the child may respond, my father. What follow up questions do you need to ask? Although this seems like a simple question and a simple answer, in fact, there is not a lot of clarity here. Is this a biological father? Is this a stepfather? Is this a father figure? What is the marital status of the father and mother? Is this someone that the child has been living with their whole life? Is this the only person that was living with the child at the time that this situation occurred? So, there are no simple questions and there are no straightforward answers, which means it's important to ask children follow up questions, because especially for children, they may not provide you as fulsome of an answer as you need to have accuracy in your legal case. Building on answers.

So in addition to asking follow up questions, you can also ask children to expound on general statements. So tell me more about that or tell me everything about the time that X situation took place. You can ask for examples. For example, the first time that something happened, the last time that something happened, most recent, the worst time that something happened. You can ask for details about an event. So tell me everything you remember about this event, even if you don't think it it's important. If you're gathering information from a child, they may be filtering it depending on their developmental age. And you wanna remind them that all details are important to you in this process. You can ask children questions like, how did you feel? You can make that age appropriate. What makes you happy? Who makes you happy? Who makes you cry? And reminding children periodically about confidentiality is always helpful as well. Sometimes you may wanna consider rephrasing concepts as some may be confusing for children. So for example, instead of saying, did your parents abuse you, you might wanna make that more specific by saying, did your mother ever hit you? Abuse is a complicated term. Different individuals have different understandings of what the word abuse means. That understanding can be affected by your age, by your literacy, by your culture, by your developmental age. So the more specific you can be, the more likely you are to get accurate information. So concepts such as mistreat, again, are subjective. Whereas if you use a word that the child is more familiar with in their world, you're likely to get better information. So, what did your mother or father do if you did something bad? What did they do when they were angry? What happened in that situation? That's more likely to get you accurate information that is not filtered.

Rephrasing is also really important because it can help the child understand further. And it doesn't give the impression that you're repeating a question because repeating a question suggests to a child that the answer they gave was wrong. And then they might be more likely to give you a less accurate answer, because they're just trying to please you and get through the process and give you the answer you're looking for. By rephrasing the question, it can seem like you are just gathering more information and not subtly telling the child that they are incorrectly answering the question.

So, open ended questions, there are different types of questions you can use when interviewing anyone. It's important when working with children that you use different kinds of questions to get the information that you need. For example, open-ended questions can be really helpful because they can't be answered in a single word. Or in other words, they're not yes or no answer questions, which then children are more likely to just fail to expound. If you use an open ended question, then you can use it as a way to open up relevant lines of inquiry for follow up. Closed ended questions can also be helpful when the child doesn't understand what you're getting at. So you wanna use those occasionally even though open ended questions are better for gathering more information. Leading questions suggest a response. So it's really important not to use those very often because it shows your assumptions about certain statements that the child has made. For example, oh, you're saying it that way, you must not have liked sharing a room with your brother. Research shows that children provide more accurate information when they're freely narrating. And so that's why open ended questions are really important and they allow children to share their ideas and give a better sense of what they're thinking. Asking children to describe allows them the freedom to elaborate as they choose. And indirect questions can also provide a margin of safety for children.

So for example, some kids believe X, Y, Z, what do you think? And that allows the child the opportunity to comment without feeling they're directly revealing their choice. If a child is clearly avoiding a specific issue, it may be necessary to try another approach and to move on and revisit that topic. It may be important to destigmatize sensitive topics. So children may need adults to normalize certain events in order to be able to talk about them directly. Especially if the event is a cultural or religious shame trigger. You can ask questions related to sexual behavior, sexual violence in a non-direct way. Such as, I've talked to girls who told me gang members pressure them to be their girlfriend. Did a gang member ever ask you to be his girlfriend? How did you feel when this happened? Again, asking, you know, what do you think about romance? And what do you think about boys or girls, or both, as a way to broach sexual orientation or gender identity questions. These may be sensitive topics for the child. And so, making the child understand that you are not judging them, but are rather just gathering information that you need as someone who's their advocate, can go a long way in terms of having the child open up to you.

I mentioned earlier that if there are sensitive topics that your child client clearly doesn't wanna discuss, you may have to move on and revisit or try a different approach. Different approaches include drawings or written accounts, rather than orally answering questions. You can also lay out chronologies as a way to gather more information if a child is unable to share with you dates or specific times. So relating the chronology to the child's birthday or the school year, presence of a sibling, a holiday. It may be easier for children to understand or think back, according to those events, as opposed to specific dates. It's also important for you to qualify what frequency means when you are talking to children. So, how do you define a lot? You may want to ask for a child to explain when they use a certain term, such as often or regularly. And that's a way to gather more accuracy in regarding the information you're gathering.

Once you have concluded your interview of the child, it's important that you debrief. So acknowledge something positive about the interview, something they shared with you maybe, discussing their bravery and how courageous they were to share the sensitive information with you really validates the child. You always wanna ask the child if they have any questions for you, because they may be wondering what next steps are. Even if you've already discussed that with them. It's helpful to reiterate that at the end of the interview. Remind the child that the discussion was confidential. Well, what does that mean? I've brought up confidentiality repeatedly in this training. It's really important to be honest with your child client about what information is confidential and that nothing they've shared with you has to be utilized in their case. And to make sure that you are clear on what they are okay with you sharing in legal pleadings, in briefs, in oral testimony and so forth.

Summarizing next steps is helpful to children. Maybe even writing it down for them. Always refocusing on the child, asking them how they're doing. If they wanna talk about anything else. You know, what are they gonna be doing after the interview? Who will they be with? Sort of making sure that the focus is on the child and their wellbeing at the end of the interview is really important. And thinking through how you feel after the interview, is there anything else that you want to discuss with the child? Is there anything that you need to go back and reiterate or gather more information about? That might be a good time to go ahead and schedule that appointment with the child.

Next, I have a series of hypotheticals to help understand effective ways that you can gather information by providing you with some examples of where interviewers have not responded effectively during a child interview.

So, let's get started with scenario number one. Jimena, age 12 is living in Honduras with her aunt and uncle. Her parents are in the United States. The interview began by the interviewer asking Jimena about her life in home country with her aunt and uncle and cousins and Jimena was reluctant to talk about it. Finally, she opened up to the interviewer and she disclosed that her uncle has been sexually abusing her regularly for two years. She has not disclosed the abuse to anyone. Interviewer's response is, "You poor thing. I know just how you feel. Why do you think your uncle did that to you?"

As you can tell, there are a number of issues with this interviewer's response. First by saying, you poor thing, the interviewer is further victimizing Jimena. By saying, "I know just know just how you feel", she is, the interviewer is minimizing the way that Jimena feels. And, "why do you think your uncle did that to you", is victim blaming and suggesting that Jimena did something to deserve this. So, essentially everything in her response is unhelpful and is likely to really sabotage any rapport she's already built with Jimena. As opposed to saying, "You poor thing", the interviewer can validate Jimena by thanking her for sharing this very sensitive information with her. She should not align herself with Jimena in any way, because clearly it is impossible for her to know exactly how Jimena feels, but rather validate Jimena's experience and express empathy for what Jimena has experienced would be a more appropriate path. And then asking an appropriate follow up question about what happened if it's event to the case would be appropriate. A type of question that does not involve asking Jimena if she understands why something like this happened, but rather, maybe gathering more information about the abuse or asking if the abuse is still ongoing, asking if there's a trusted adult that she can talk to about this. There might be ways to think through questions that would actually help Jimena as opposed to sort of blaming her for the victimization.

Let's move on to scenario two, Juan, age 16, admitted to the interviewer that gang members have been following him to and from school and threatening to harm him if he does not join the gang. The interviewer asked Juan why he thinks the gangs were targeting him. Juan says he doesn't know. The interviewer's response is, how can you not know?

Obviously this is a really unhelpful response because it's accusing a child of not knowing the intentions of gang members, which clearly would be impossible for Juan to know. But furthermore would require Juan to guess or hypothesize about why the gang members are targeting him, which will likely lead to inaccurate information, which would not be helpful for the court case. A more appropriate follow up question would be asking about details of the targeting if that's relevant to the case. So for example, how often have they been following him to and from school? When did that start? Is it still ongoing? What kinds of threats did they make specifically? Did they say something? Have they harmed him in any way? Information that relates to actually what happened and not asking Juan to surmise why he has experienced this kind of harassment.

Okay, scenario three. Soon after an interview began, the interviewer asked Karen, age 13, if she goes to school. Karen says she does not go to school because her grandmother needs her to stay at home to make tortillas for her to sell. But she doesn't mind and she's happy to help the grandmother out. The interviewer's response is, so it's your choice to be working and not going to school.

As you can tell, this is not a helpful response for a number of reasons. First, it assumes that Karen, age 13, a child, has the choice of going to school or working for her grandmother. When in fact, she is residing with her grandmother who is her guardian and should be making that decision. Furthermore, it blames Karen for not going to school when she's clearly a juvenile. And it suggests that she is somehow to blame and suggests that the interviewer is judging her for not going to school. A more appropriate response would be to ask Karen more details about this. When was the last time she did go to school? And what it is her relationship like with her grandmother? And does she have any other trusted adults in her life? Those kind of questions will gather more information depending on the kind of case that is being pursued.

Scenario four. The interviewer asks Jorge, age 15, how he is doing and why he has some bandages on his hand. Jorge indicates he was attacked by gang members while driving around with his uncle in his uncle's car a few weeks ago. The interviewer asks Jorge if the gang members have anything against his uncle. Jorge says he doesn't know. Their interviewer's response is, "Okay, when else were you approached by gang members?"

Again, this is a problematic response as it assumes that Jorge has been approached by gang members in the past. As we mentioned earlier in the training, it's important not to make any assumptions when interviewing children and not to ask leading questions because a child may be then inclined to give you an answer that they think is what you're looking for, or that will please you, or that will be helpful for their case, as opposed to actually providing you with a truthful answer. It is helpful in the situation to ask follow up questions, to gather more information about the situation. But open ended, not leading questions that aren't insinuating a certain response would be more helpful. So, asking Jorge simply, has this ever happened before? Have you ever been approached by gang members before? Have you ever been attacked by gang members before? Doesn't assume that he has been, but rather is asking whether or not that has actually happened. There are other follow up questions about the scenario that can be asked to gather more information. How he was attacked. Was there anybody else in the vehicle? And more details about time of day. Where they were going. Does he know what kind of gang members and so forth, will provide more color to the story as opposed to a leading question.

Scenario five, when discussing how life is in El Salvador, Carlos, age 17, says he was approached by gang members near his church recently. The interviewer asks if the gang members know Carlos was a member of that church. Carlos says he does not know. Interviewer's responses is, did you tell them you were a member of the church?

This response is not helpful because it doesn't align with the story that Carlos is saying. If Carlos was approached by gang members and he doesn't know if they know he's a member, then logically that suggests that he did not tell them he was a member of that church. Follow up questions relating to the scenario that happened would be more helpful and likely gather better information.

Scenario six, Jerson, age 15, insists that everything is fine in Guatemala, but he admits that he has not been going to school. He says it's because he wants to work and help his family. When asked if he liked going to school, he says he did, but he did not like the lengthy walk there because he was beaten up on his way home from school regularly for several months. And as a result, he no longer wants to go to school. He says yet, gang members have targeted him as well as his cousins, but he really has no idea why. The interviewer then responds, "Didn't they tell you why they were harassing you?"

Again, this type of response suggests that it is somehow Jerson's fault or that he is not conveying accurate information, because by saying, "Didn't they tell you?", assumes that he did in fact have an idea of why he was being harassed. This is also a close ended question, which in addition to sounding accusatory will only result in a yes or no answer. A more appropriate follow up question would be, to ask Jerson what kind of violence he was experiencing. Was he able to share any of this information with any trusted adults? Was there anyone in the school he could turn to for assistance? Did he discuss this scenario with his cousins? There could be more information you could gather, even from interviewing the cousins, if that's a possibility. But asking Jerson whether or not the gang members told him why they were harassing him is likely not gonna yield any helpful information. Not to mention the fact that it would be highly unlikely for the gang members to disclose that information anyway.

Scenario seven, Elena, age 16, resides with her grandmother in El Salvador. The interviewer asks Elena how she likes living with her grandmother. The grandmother says she has moved out and now lives with her boyfriend. She says she loves her boyfriend very much and her grandmother's house was too crowded anyways. The interviewer says, "Aren't you too young for that?" And, "Is that normal in El Salvador?"

This response suggests a great deal of judgment from the interviewer. By asking, isn't she too young, suggests that the interviewer in fact thinks she's too young to be living with her boyfriend. And by asking, isn't that normal in El Salvador, she is suggesting that she is judging something that could be culturally normal in another country. She is suggesting that it isn't appropriate in the United States. And so therefore, somehow Elena's culture is in the wrong. These types of responses are likely to break down any rapport that's been built by the child client and the interviewer. And is the type of response to a question that I really recommend staying away from. An appropriate follow up question was to ask, you know, why was her grandmother's house too crowded, how many individuals were residing there and to discuss more with Elena what led to her decision to leave the home. As opposed to asking any kind of question that would suggest that there's a cultural issue with what Elena did.

 In scenario eight, we have Kelvin, age 16, who lives in Honduras with his older brother. The interviewer asked Kelvin what he does when he gets home from school. And Kelvin says he's working. And his work is to deliver packages for a local gang. The interviewer responds, "How do you feel about delivering drugs for a living?"

Again, this kind of response suggests that the interviewers judging Kelvin. Moreover, at no point did Kelvin say that he was delivering drugs. And so the interviewer is making a pretty drastic assumption in this situation. Kelvin is likely going to shut down after receiving that kind of response. He's going to feel judged and targeted by the interviewer. A more appropriate follow up question would be to ask Kelvin perhaps how he came about engaging in this type of work. Does he know what kinds of packages he is delivering? Was there a reason that he felt the need to work? And other questions about the scenario. Frankly, there might also be a scenario where depending on the type of case you are working on for Kelvin, it is not relevant or helpful for you to know about the type of work he's doing. And you may wanna move on from this line of questioning altogether.

In scenario nine, we have an interviewer who asks Edmund, age 12, how he like living at home with his father, as his mother came to the United States several years ago. Edmund says his father loves him, suggesting that he enjoys living with him. The interviewer asks him if he ever gets in trouble and Edmund says his father only punishes him for his own good. Interviewer says, "Sounds like you were a handful."

This response is clearly a judgemental response from the interviewer. And also doesn't provide for a follow up question or does not create an opportunity to gather more information. And in fact goes in the opposite direction by placing blame on Edmund for any punishment he received and will likely lead to Edmund not wanting to share further information with the interviewer. The interviewer could instead ask, what kinds of punishments he receives, what types of scenarios there are when he receives any punishment. How does Edmund feel about these type of situations? And more information specifically about the relationship between Edmund and his father. Open ended questions that showcase sensitivity for Edmund and his life and his cultural background will help build more rapport and allow Edmund to open up further to the interviewer. As you can tell from these hypothetical scenarios, there are ways in which you can provide a response without thinking through your response that will alienate the child and victim blame and often make the child feel as though they did something wrong.

There also responses you can provide that may not be quite as harmful, but also will still go to damage any rapport you built with the child and can also lead the child to not want to further expound upon their situation. So it is important when responding to think through your response so you can ensure that you are validating the child. And that you are actually crafting a question which will yield more information that is helpful to the child's case. A child may be relaying a story or a scenario that isn't actually even helpful to the case that you need to build. And so at that point, you can simply redirect and move on. That came up in scenario eight, where Kelvin was delivering packages. And it may be true in some of these other scenarios as well. These scenarios all specifically relate to children who are refugees, as that is my area of expertise. But these scenarios can be applied essentially to any situation in which you're interviewing children, because it is important to remember that children will feel blamed or alienated more likely more easily than an adult client that you're interviewing. And so it's important to make sure you are asking questions and follow up questions that are appropriate and thoughtful, and actually elicit the information that you're gathering with.

So, in summary, today's training, we discussed the importance of understanding who you're interviewing. When you're interviewing a child client, they will have their own challenges such as limited vocabulary and perspective, but they also might be facing additional challenges. They could be a trauma survivor, which will have a number of significant impacts on their ability to relay information, to remember information, to concentrate. And they may also be part of a special population, such as a refugee. And so, in those scenarios, we need to think through cultural differences, cultural barriers, normalization of different situations and differences in education, in mannerisms and ways of communication. When thinking through the clients who are children have different abilities to understand the questions you're asking them, it's important to remember their developmental ages. And we discussed the differences between children ages three to five, six to 11 and 12 to 18. And important factors to consider when interviewing children in those age ranges.

We discussed how to conduct an effective interview with a child. So the logistics of having an adult there to provide support on the front end of the interview, but then interviewing the child alone in a comfortable physical space, special considerations when using an interpreter. We discussed the importance of first impressions and how to build rapport with children on the front end, in order to set the stage for the interview you're about to conduct. We talked about tools for effectively gathering information, such as engaging in active listening, ensuring for understanding, asking for feedback. We discussed at length the different kinds of questions to ask, how to build on answers, how to rephrase questions and how to ensure that when asking questions, you are effectively eliciting information by using techniques such as speaking at a slow rate, rephrasing, allowing the child to process questions, asking one question at a time. We also discussed leading questions versus closed questions and the importance of open ended questions. We talked about destigmatizing certain sensitive topics and alternative approaches such as drawing or using written accounts to gather information and also different ways to approach things, like chronology and frequency. And then finally, we talked about debriefing and why it's important to debrief at the end of any child interview.

You do wanna ensure that the child had a positive experience, or if not positive, at least not traumatic, that it is possible that you may have to meet with the child at a later date to conduct follow up interviews. I will say for most cases, that is very likely. And so, you wanna be able to build on the rapport that you already created, and you want to be able to rely on the fact that this first interview of the child was not a negative experience. And then that will allow you to conduct a more effective interview the second and third time and so forth that you have to meet with a child. And then finally, we had a series of hypotheticals where we analyzed the response of an interviewer when the child shared certain sensitive information. And why the interviewer's response was inappropriate and how to reframe the interviewer's response into a follow up question that is: A, more sensitive, B, contributes to building rapport, as opposed to breaking it down. And B actually elicits more information from the child, which is the purpose of the follow up questions. I thank you very much for joining me in this training today. And I hope it was helpful in providing a basis for conducting interviews of children.

As a final reminder, I can't overstate the importance of making sure that the child feels comfortable in working with you, in building rapport with the child and investing a certain amount of effort in building rapport with the child at the onset of the interview. And to prepare questions in advance that are open ended and not likely to come across as judgemental. And I do also recommend practicing active listening and validating because it may not be something that you're familiar with because you likely don't have to use those techniques nearly as much with adult clients. Preparation is sort of the key when working with child clients. And I think when you put all of these tools together and techniques together, hopefully you will have an effective interview of your child client.

Thank you.

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