Interviewing Children with Disabilities FAQ

Missing and Exploited Youth - Interviewing Children with Disabilities. 

Following a webinar on this topic, an FAQ was developed. August 2013. Pauline Lucero-Esquivel has provided a response to questions on interviewing children with disabilities.

When conducting an interview for research purposes, how do you ensure assent/consent from children with disabilities?

There are guidelines that trained professionals use to evaluate consent from children with disabilities. Refer to the  guidelines for your profession (e.g., APA Ethics Guidelines

Pauline suggested that interviewers limit follow-up questions when conducting the interview. In what particular circumstance should follow-up questions be limited?

If a pre-interview assessment has been completed and it is clear that the child does not have the capacity to give additional details, it is best to limit the follow-up questions.  The Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) team may agree that it is important to demonstrate that the child is unable to answer follow-up questions during the recorded interview. This can be done in the rapport building phase with non-abuse topics, and again when discussing the abuse details after an initial disclosure. Once this has been established, it is best not to continue to ask follow- up questions that cannot be answered.

As an example, a child with a disability may have a cognitive functioning level of a pre-schooler.  We know that preschoolers are generally able to tell an interviewer who the offender is, what they did and the place/room the offense occurred.  They are also more likely to show on their body where they were touched.  These interviews are generally shorter due to the child’s attention span and their inability to give the kind of details older children can provide. It is important to understand that there are so many types of disabilities and levels of severity that it is impossible to generalize about how the chronological age of the child can be factored into the line of questioning.

How can an interviewer modify forensic interview protocols for the disability and still maintain the integrity of the interview?

This can be done by understanding the type of disability the child has and what their abilities and limitations are with regard to relating an experience. As interviewers, we use a developmental framework with all children we interview.  This developmental structure requires additional communication with the adults that are familiar with the child’s disability. Prior to the interview, with the guardian’s consent, a MDT member can speak with the special education teacher or other professionals that work closely with the child, and find out the types of questions the child is capable of answering.