Each year in the United States, close to a million children are found to be victims of child abuse or neglect, with many more suspected cases in which no firm conclusion can be drawn. In the vast majority of cases of sexual abuse, in particular, the primary and often the only evidence is the child's verbal allegation and testimony in court. Decisions regarding both child protection, and criminal proceedings therefore depend heavily on the quality of the information obtained from suspected victims during investigative interviews. Although structured interview protocols for forensic interviews conducted with children are now widely advocated in the US, and several are currently in use in many states, only one, the NICHD investigative interview protocol, has been subjected to systematic evaluation in the field. Moreover, there have been no studies evaluating the effects of recommended approaches to interviewing on case outcomes in the justice system. The goal of the proposed research is, therefore, to examine whether the NICHD investigative interview protocol has had an impact on case outcomes within the justice system.
The research team will compare the outcomes of approximately 600 cases in which the investigative interview followed the NICHD interview protocol and case outcomes of approximately 600 cases in which interviews were conducted prior to the introduction of the protocol. Samples of cases will be matched with respect to age and gender of children making an allegation of abuse, the relationship of the suspect to the child, the type of abuse, and whether the abuse occurred a single time or multiple times. The research team will compare outcomes of protocol and non-protocol forensic interviews with alleged victims of sexual abuse to address the question whether improved interviewing procedures increase the likelihood that child abuse cases proceeds through the processes of the criminal justice system with minimal time delay.
The finding of an effect of the introduction of the NICHD structured protocol on case outcomes would provide the strongest possible endorsement of a structured approach to interviewing children within the justice system. The study therefore has implications for policy and practice concerning the forensic interviewing of suspected child abuse victims and, in turn, for child protection and the investigation of child abuse cases.