Interviewer's questions, children's responses : assessments of children who may have been abused
Patterson, Thelma Gay
The current thesis is based on interviews conducted with twenty-six 3- to 8-year old children who were assessed regarding concerns that they may have been abused. Eightyeight transcripts of the children undergoing a diagnostic assessment for potential sexual or physical abuse at a regional Child Youth and Family (CYF) protection agency were obtained and analysed. The first study examined how children were questioned by the assessment interviewer across three interviews. A coding system was developed to categorise the type of activity the interviewer was engaged in, the type of question the interviewer asked (in terms of openness and suggestiveness), and the topic of that question. In terms of openness of the questions, the majority of the interviewer's questions were open, rather than choice or closed questions. In terms of suggestiveness of the questions, the majority of the interviewer's questions were direct. At each end of the suggestiveness continuum, very few free recall and very few suggestive questions were asked. The interviewer's questions differed across the 3 interviews; for example, the number of questions asked increased across the 3 interviews, and abuse-specific questions were typically asked in later interviews rather than earlier ones. The topic of the question and the age of the child also impacted on the number of questions asked. These findings are compared to other studies conducted in the field. Study 2 examined how children responded to the interviewer's questions. A coding system was developed to categorise childrens' responses as replying or not replying to the interviewer's questions. Most of children's responses (84%) consisted of providing on-task information to the interviewer's questions. Children rarely requested the interviewer to clarify her question. When children did not reply they were more likely to divert into playtalk activities than to not respond at all. Furthermore, children were more likely to not reply to an abuse-specific question than to a non-abuse question. Study 3 examined the conditions under which children disclosed substantive issues in the diagnostic assessments. A coding system was developed to categorise the type of disclosure children made (i.e., sexual abuse, physical abuse or sex-related activity) and the characteristics of these disclosures (i.e., whether children denied abuse, were reluctant or recanted). The type of question and the interview strategy in use at the time the disclosure was elicited, were also examined. Children's disclosures of sexual abuse and sex-related activity were, in many cases, characterised by denial, reluctance or recantation. Children's disclosures of physical abuse did not contain any of these elements. Most disclosures of substantive issues were disclosed in response to open, direct or leading questions. A number of interview strategies ( e.g., discussing allegation information, good or not good touching, who the child liked or didn't like) were in use at the time of disclosure. Overall, children in the present study showed some reluctance in discussing and disclosing abuse-specific issues, especially those of a sexual nature. Given this, the findings of the present study are discussed in terms of the recommendations made about best ways to question children, and the difficulties inherent in assessing abuse allegations.
Advisor: Pipe, Margaret-Ellen (Mel); Hayne, Harlene
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis